071 UK Supreme Court

ClientEarth triumph in the Supreme Court

Wednesday 1st May 2013 was a good day for air quality. A legal battle which began in 2011 has resulted in a formal ruling from the highest court in the land that the Government is failing in its legal duty to protect people from the harmful effects of air pollution.

Some of the complex legal questions will be referred to the European Court of Justice to inform the Supreme Court’s decision on a course of action. This will inevitably cause some delay, but going to the European Court means that any decision will then have implications for all EU Member States. The declaration also means that ‘the way is open to immediate enforcement action at national or European level’. See the summary and full judgment for more detail.

It’s also provided an interesting opportunity to examine Defra’s tendency to stick their fingers in their ears over this problem. Even on the same day that the Supreme Court made their declaration, a Government source was widely quoted in the media as saying: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent decades and almost all of the UK meets EU air quality limits for all pollutants.” That’s government terminology for “la la la not listening”, surely?

Alan Andrews, ClientEarth lawyer, said: “It’s misleading to say that almost all of the UK meets EU air quality limits. Much of the UK land mass has a low population. Air pollution is a problem in cities where most people live. If you’re on holiday in the Highlands you’re at a low risk. If you grow up in an inner city it could do you irreversible and life threatening damage. If we’re going to solve this problem the first thing the Government needs to do is be honest about air pollution’s scale and impact.”

We’ll be working through the full implications of this landmark decision by the Supreme Court and particularly how this might help local communities to get traction on the issue in the short term. Watch this space, but for now, see the press release here, and browse through a selection of the swathe of media coverage.


Pollution in London ruled illegal – ITV News 

Supreme court ruling may force British cities to clean up and ban dirty cars – Telegraph

UK broke EU air quality law, says supreme court – Channel 4 News

UK government failing legal duty on air pollution, supreme court rules | Environment | guardian.co.uk

Alan Andrews interviewed on the drive time show about air pollution and the case (at 46 minutes in) – BBC Radio London

Government ‘breaking EU law’ over air pollution, rules Supreme Court – Court – London24

Supreme Court warns over air quality breaches – Scotsman.com

UK govt. violates EU air quality law; 29,000 Britons die annually – PressTV

UK Government is failing in its legal duty to protect Brummies – The Birmingham Press

Government broke EU air quality law, supreme court says – Reuters

Supreme court finds UK in breach of European air pollution rules – Financial Times


2 Responses to ClientEarth triumph in the Supreme Court

  1. Peter Keith says:

    The worst cause of pollution of recent years has been the introduction of wood burning stoves to smoke control zones. These pump out 300% more pollution than gas fires but there is very little control over them. The regulations are very sloppy and it is impossible for the average householder to stop pollution of your property under them. Civil law doesn’t help as it is difficult to prove the problem exists.

    • Pete trainor says:

      Thank you. I have bought 4 air purifiers just to try and cope with the misery of sitting in my home filled with fumes from wood burning stoves in my suburban street. My council environmental dept sent me an email to inform me that my complaint about this was groundless as …..”wood burning smoke and coal burning is a normal fact of domestic living”. Help!

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