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Committee (7th Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 1st February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 4:15 pm, 1st February 2012

My Lords, at the risk of being accused of unqualified one-way sycophancy, I must again congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, on the clarity of his presentation of this complex issue. Although I somewhat dissociate myself from the preamble to the substantive part of his speech, I entirely concur with his amendments. At this stage, I should also express my thanks to the learned counsel whose advice has instructed me in a matter about which, hitherto, I knew nothing. Aarhus meant absolutely nothing to me up till now. It seems that I may have shared that failing with Her Majesty's Government. We shall see from the Minister's reply whether that is a correct inference or not.

The noble Lord referred to the ClientEarth case in which the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee observed that the cost rules pertaining in the United Kingdom placed it in systemic breach of Article 9.4 of that treaty. The committee concluded that we had not as a country adequately implemented our obligation to ensure that procedures are not prohibitively expensive. Counsel's opinion, to which the noble Lord referred, identified two particular issues. The first is that of uncertainty. The second is the sheer amount of the defendant's costs that might fall on unsuccessful claimants. The noble Lord referred to the case of Barr and Biffa waste company, which arose from a complaint about odours emanating from a landfill site, where the costs were indeed nearly £3,250,000.

Lord Justice Jackson has much to say about those issues. His remedy is, as the noble Lord pointed out, a move to qualified one-way cost shifting. He gave six reasons for his conclusions, which are germane to the thrust of the amendments. He said:

"This is the simplest and most obvious way to comply with the UK's obligation under the Aarhus Convention in respect of environmental judicial review cases".

He continued:

"For the reasons stated by the Court of Appeal on several occasions, it is undesirable to have different costs rules for ... environmental judicial review and... other judicial review cases".

His third reason was that the requirement for permission,

"is an effective filter to weed out unmeritorious cases. Therefore two way costs shifting is not generally necessary to deter frivolous claims".

They simply do not arise. His fourth point was that,

"it is not in the public interest that potential claimants should be deterred from bringing properly arguable judicial review proceedings by the very considerable financial risks involved".

He pointed out that:

"One was costs shifting in judicial review cases has proved satisfactory in Canada".

His final point, which goes to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lester is that the protective costs order regime,

"is not effective to protect claimants against excessive costs liability. It is expensive to operate and uncertain in its outcome. In many instances the PCO decision comes too late in the proceedings to be of value".

So with respect to the noble Lord, the protective costs order regime is not, in the view of Lord Justice Jackson, an answer to the difficulty.