Law courts at the Old Bailey, London

Using the law to defend the environment

"Friends of the Earth’s legal team strives for environmental justice. We want to create a positive space for civil society to take action and freely express itself.

The legal team is small, but our ambitions are large.

A key part of our work revolves around strategic litigation. This means mounting carefully-planned cases that are bigger than the sum of their parts.

For example we've rolled back oil and gas industry injunctions that were stifling protest against fracking.

And we've brought cases against damaging developments – to stop them, but also to raise awareness of their larger impacts. Such as our litigation to stop Heathrow expansion or opencast coal sites in Northumberland.

Win, lose, or draw, we aim for more than a decision. We want to shift the balance of public and political discourse on crucial topics such as climate breakdown, plastic pollution and equality for all.

Challenging injustice where we find it is crucial, even when the odds may be against us. Tackling the causes of injustice is what matters most.

The power for that of course lies with you – the people. That is why there is always hope, and why we must act together."

Will Rundle and Katie de Kauwe, Friends of the Earth legal team (pictured far right and second from right).

Heathrow Judicial Review

On 27 February 2020, in a ground-breaking victory for climate justice, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government’s policy giving the green light to expansion at Heathrow was unlawful on climate grounds. The ruling followed successful challenges by ourselves and Plan B. This victory shows that the Government must comply with its climate commitments - it cannot just play lip service to them. It’s also a testament to the importance of people power, and the decades of sustained resistance to Heathrow expansion by local activists, including the West London Friends of the Earth Groups Network.

Frack Free Three

In 2018, Simon Blevins, Richard Roberts and Rich Loizou were sent to prison. Known as the 'Frack Free Three', they were jailed for causing a public nuisance during protests at Cuadrilla's site at Preston New Road in Lancashire. We joined Liberty to intervene in the mens' appeal in October 2018. We argued that their good-faith concerns about the environment had been wrongly used to justify draconian sentencing. Their sentences were quashed, and they walked free within hours of the appeal hearing.

National Planning Policy Framework

Good environmental governance is about action, not empty words. In December 2018 we took the government to court over its new national planning policy. This planning policy sets the guidelines for land use and development throughout England. We argued that it should be the subject of meaningful environmental assessment. Disappointingly the government got off on a technicality. However, we did succeed in establishing that the policy does have a determinative impact on the planning system and a significant effect on the environment.

Druridge Bay opencast coal mine

In 2018 the government rejected a proposed new opencast coal mine at Druridge Bay in Northumberland on climate change grounds. Unfortunately, the developer Banks Mining appealed and won, forcing the government to reconsider. Friends of the Earth is campaigning for the Communities Secretary James Brokenshire to reject the mine again on climate change grounds.

Judicial Review costs protection

Environmental claims are public-interest claims because we all depend on a healthy environment for our daily lives. The environment cannot take its own cases, but the UK signed the Aarhus Convention to facilitate access to justice for environmental claimants with this in mind. However litigation can be expensive and risky because if you lose you will pay the other side's legal bill. When the government changed the rules that protected claimants from excessive legal costs, we challenged them to ensure financial protections remained.

Right to protest

Fracking companies have been seeking an increasing number of injunctions to suppress protests at their sites. We believe that these injunctions are disproportionate and are an attack on free speech. In March 2019 we intervened in support of the appeal against Ineos’ injunction. The Court of Appeal found that Ineos’ injunction was unlawful. We've also challenged UKOG's very similar injunction, alongside the Sussex and Surrey 6, and together, we've reduced this injunction, and stood up for the right to protest. The Sussex and Surrey 6 are going back to the High Court for a full trial on the current facts, in order to further attack this injunction.

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