Environmental groups will ask a High Court judge today to force the lord chancellor to reinstate cost caps that protect those suing public bodies.
Client Earth, a lawyer group, and two conservation bodies, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Friends of the Earth, will appear before Mr Justice Dove in an attempt to overturn the government’s costs rules, which they claim makes it difficult to bring environmental cases in England and Wales. The rules – which were implemented last February – scrapped fixed cost caps that limited how much litigants paid if they lost a case against a public body.
The campaigning groups claim that the move made it “impossible to predict how much a court case to protect the environment will cost, as defendants will be able to ask judges to increase the initial cap at any time – even if the case has already started”. In a statement in advance of the hearing, Client Earth said “this is a major barrier for people and charities who want to use the rule of law to hold the government or other public bodies to account”.
The groups also said that the new rules mean that claimants have to disclose private financial details to the court and other parties when applying for judicial review, with no guarantees that the information will remain confidential.
The High Court fast-tracked the challenge to the government’s rules in April over fears that they are affecting new claims, said the groups.
“Not only do these rules deter the public and charities from bringing cases to protect the environment,” said Client Earth, “they are also unlawful under EU and international law. Uncertain court costs have a dangerous chilling effect, as they are a major risk that many people cannot afford to take.
“These rules have been criticised by the European Commission, a UN committee responsible for access to justice, a House of Lords committee, and by lawyers, politicians and members of civil society.”