Clause 35 - Environmental review

Part of Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 5th November 2020.

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Photo of Leo Docherty Leo Docherty Assistant Whip 3:45 pm, 5th November 2020

I thank the hon. Member for his contribution on this matter. First, I reassure him that the court may already review relevant facts or evidence in coming to its judgments. I fully expect that the court will give the OEP’s decision notices appropriate weight as part of any environmental review, and that its judgments will contribute to the integrity of environmental law.

While I support the hon. Member’s desire to see environmental improvements delivered by the Bill, I am concerned that amendment 119 would potentially blur the well established separation of powers between Government and the courts. We all support the objective of achieving environmental improvement, but that is a policy objective for the Government to deliver. It would be highly unusual and inappropriate to give the courts responsibility for delivering a policy objective other than the service of justice. Moreover, this could also lead to secondary legal challenges examining whether the environmental review had achieved its supposed purpose.

Both amendments also risk tilting the balance of the court’s judgments in such a way as to favour the OEP’s case in environmental reviews. It would be unheard of to impinge on the impartial role of the court in carefully balancing all the evidence before it and reaching a fair and reasonable judgment. That could be prejudicial to the public authority concerned. Clearly, therefore, it is better to allow the court to continue to operate in a fair and balanced way, giving all parties confidence that they will be given a fair hearing, which is necessary to ensure that judgments are objective, impartial and can widely and positively influence environmental case law. I respectfully ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendments.