Environmental charities win landmark ruling over legal costs

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Dec 05, 2017
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ClientEarth argued that new cost rules would have a chilling effect on environmental legal challenges

Three charities have forced the government to pay their legal costs after they convinced judges that new legislation capping lawyers’ fees in environmental claims was a breach of EU law.

The High Court ruling came after the environmental groups had won a legal battle in September to overturn default caps on legal costs.

The groups, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth, argued that the cost rules would have a chilling effect on environmental legal challenges.

The High Court agreed in September, ruling that aspects of the Civil Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2017 that allowed for default caps on legal costs to be varied at any point during the case, rather than remaining fixed throughout, would in principle breach EU law.

Now the High Court has ordered the secretary of state for justice to pay all the groups’ legal costs up to a cap of £35,000, rejecting a request from a government lawyer to slash the environmental groups’ legal costs by half.

Gillian Lobo, a lawyer with ClientEarth, said the groups had brought the action “because of the real uncertainty and chilling effect created by the government’s new costs rules for those who have to go to court to protect the environment. 

“By ordering the government to pay the claimants’ full legal costs, the judge has reaffirmed the need for us to bring this case and our victory for access to justice”. 

Rowan Smith, a lawyer at the London law firm Leigh Day, which acted for the groups, said the court order was significant, adding that the “government had argued the claimants shouldn’t be entitled to their full legal costs. This order confirms the case was won beyond doubt by our clients, and also justifies the claimants’ push for the rule changes following the judgment. 

“This case resulted in significant amendments to the government’s costs rules, which will ensure better access to environmental justice and will go a considerable way to allaying legitimate concerns of a chilling effect on otherwise meritorious legal claims.”

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