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Challenging environmental decisions

Get involved in environmental decision-making

When public authorities take decisions that affect your local environment there is usually an opportunity for you to get involved. For example, you might be able to make comments (representations) about an application for planning permission or for an environmental permit. The Environmental Citizenship page gives more information.

Judicial review challenges

If you are unhappy with the authority’s decision, you might be able to challenge it. These kinds of challenges are known as applications for judicial review. They are dealt with by judges in the Administrative Court in England/Wales, and in the Court of Session in Scotland.

There are limited grounds for bringing judicial review challenges. You would be what's known as a third party, and you would have to demonstrate to the court that you have sufficient interest (standing). Strict time limits apply. You should consult a solicitor as soon as possible before proceeding with a challenge. The Find Help page lists organisations that may be able to assist.

Legal costs

Judicial review cases are expensive. Legal aid is very restricted. If you are not legally aided, then you will have to fund your own legal costs. If your claim is successful, you can seek an order requiring your opponent to pay your legal costs.

If your claim is unsuccessful, you may be required to pay your opponent’s legal costs as well as having to pay your own. In England and Wales, the courts can grant a Protective Costs Order (PCO), which limits how much of your opponent’s costs you would have to pay if your case is an ‘Aarhus Convention claim’. Broadly speaking, that means a claim that relates to an environmental matter. For those kinds of claim, if you are granted a PCO, you would be required to pay no more than £5,000 of your opponent’s costs if you were bringing the case by yourself (as an individual). If you were bringing the case on behalf of a company or charity or some other body, then the maximum you would have to pay would be £10,000. When granting a PCO, the judge can also limit the amount of your own legal expenses that you will be able to recover from your opponent, if your action is successful, to £35,000.

In Scotland, similar rules now require a judge in the Court of Session to consider granting a Protective Expenses Order (PEO) in cases involving the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive or the Pollution Prevention and Control Directive. You can also apply to the Court for a PEO in other environmental cases. If a PEO is granted, you would normally be required to pay no more than £5,000 of your opponent’s legal expenses. When granting a PEO, the judge can also limit the amount of expenses you will be able to recover from your opponent, if your action is successful, to £30,000.

Legislation and rules

Civil Procedure Rules, Part 54: Judicial Review and Statutory Review
Procedural rules for Judicial Review cases
The Aarhus Convention
UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters 1998
Civil Procedure Rules, Part 45: Rules 45.41-45.44
Rules about costs limits in Aarhus Convention claims
Civil Procedure Rules, Practice Direction 45: Paragraph 5.1
Sets out the maximum contribution that an unsuccessful party can be required to pay towards their opponent's costs
Court of Session Rules, chapter 58A

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