In a petition backed by comedian Frankie Boyle and author Iain Banks, campaigners are calling on the Scottish Parliament to investigate the barriers people face when they try to stand up for the environment.
On Tuesday (8 November) Friends of the Earth Scotland will submit the petition - which has raised over 1000 signatures across Scotland and is backed by top lawyers, academics and organisations including SCVO and RSPB Scotland - to members of the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee.
The petition will also point out that the current situation leaves the Scottish Government in breach of the United Nations 'Aarhus' Convention that requires 'fair, equitable and affordable' access to justice on environmental matters.
Currently individuals, communities or campaigners face impossible costs to challenge decisions that potentially break environmental law, as demonstrated in the ongoing case against the development of a new coal fired power station in Hunterston, and by Aberdeenshire pensioner Molly Forbes' wrangle with Trump's golf development.
Juliet Swann, Head of Projects and Campaigns, said: "For too long, money and power have been seen to outweigh communities and the environment in the legal process. It's time to tip the scales of justice so that communities and individuals can defend their rights.
"We want to see the barriers to standing up for your environment removed. Communities should not face massive expenses just because they tried to defend their environment. Individuals should not have to cough up tens of thousands of pounds to challenge decisions that could damage Scotland's environment forever.
"The Scottish Government should introduce legislation enabling individuals, communities and interest groups to access justice in environmental matters without fear of prohibitive cost."
For media enquiries and photos from the event, please contact:
Per Fischer, Press Office, Friends of the Earth Scotland
t: 0131 243 2719
1. Petition Text: Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to clearly demonstrate how access to the Scottish courts is compliant with the Aarhus convention on 'Access to Justice in Environmental Matters' especially in relation to costs, title and interest; publish the documents and evidence of such compliance; and state what action it will take in light of the recent ruling of the Aarhus Compliance Committee against the UK Government.
2. Amongst those who are supporting the petition are:
Aidan O'Neil QC
Mark Poustie, Head of Law School, Strathclyde University
Tom Ballantine, Chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland
Magda Stoczkiewicz, Director, Friends of the Earth Europe
Richard Dixon, Director, WWF Scotland
Lloyd Austin, Head of Policy, RSPB Scotland
Martin Ford, Aberdeenshire Councillor
Clare Symonds, Chair of Planning Democracy
Frazer Scott, Chief Executive, Forward Scotland
Martin Sime, Chief Executive, SCVO
Tim Cowen, Communities Opposed to New Coal at Hunterston
3. A UN convention, the Aarhus Convention on Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, recognizes every person’s right to a healthy environment. The UK and EU are both signatories. Failing to address the issue of title and interest or expenses in legal matters is against the terms of the Convention. More info about the Aarhus Convention and Access to Environmental Justice www.foe-scotland.org.uk/access-to-justice-about
4. In a ground breaking 2010 ruling, the local community group seeking to overturn the late inclusion (without adequate consultation) of a coal fired power station at Hunterston in the National Planning Framework were awarded the first ever Protective Expense Order in Scotland. Yet, the court capped the applicant's liability for the defendant's costs at £30,000, which, when added to the estimated costs of up to £80,000 the applicant would face in bringing the case (having been denied legal aid), amount to a significant financial barrier to pursuing the case.
5. The Aarhus Compliance Committee recently found the UK to be non-compliant with the Aarhus Convention, with respect to access to justice in England and Wales. The main area of non-compliance was around prohibitive costs, an area where the Scottish legal system is even further behind the rest of the UK. Continued non-compliance with the Aarhus Convention, as found in the ruling from the Compliance Committee, could result in the UK being taken to the Court of Justice by the Commission, with the associated penalty. Since the “Scottish Courts follow essentially the same approach in making decisions about expenses as do the other legal jurisdictions of the UK”, the Scottish legal system too must change or face the repercussions. Friends of the Earth Scotland exists to help people in Scotland look after the planet for everyone's future. We think globally and act locally in Scotland, delivering solutions to climate change by enabling and empowering people to take both individual and collective action. We offer help to people with the big things in life – helping to sustain a healthy society and environment. We believe that all of our children’s futures will be better because of what we do.