Supreme Court air pollution judgement due this week

Final judgement on ClientEarth v Defra case over nitrogen dioxide levels to be handed down prior to General Election

The Supreme Court will next week (April 29) hand down its final judgement in ClientEarth’s case against the government over the UK’s failure to meet EU nitrogen dioxide limits.

The UK Supreme Court's final judgement in ClientEarth's case against the UK government will be handed down on April 29 (Photo - UK Supreme Court)

The UK Supreme Court’s final judgement in ClientEarth’s case against the UK government will be handed down on April 29 (Photo – UK Supreme Court)

The final hearing in the case took place just last Thursday (April 16) and environmental lawyer organisation ClientEarth said today (April 24) that it was “delighted that the Court has dealt with this so quickly”.

The culmination of a four-year legal battle originally launched by  ClientEarth in 2011, the judgement will be handed down in Courtroom 1 at 9.45am and streamed live on the Supreme Court website, it was announced yesterday (April 23).

It means the judgement will come in the week before the 2015 General Election on May 7, potentially bringing greater prominence to the case during the campaign period.

Although no date was previously set, a judgement had not been expected until after the Election — perhaps not until July.

The final hearing in the case took place last week (April 16) at the Supreme Court, at which ClientEarth called for Defra to produce a new air quality plan “within three months” to meet EU NO2 limits (see story).

The fact that a judgement is due to be given less than a fortnight after the final hearing is seen in some legal circles as somewhat unusual. However, no particular significance in terms of outcome can be drawn, one expert told


Commenting on the Supreme Court’s announcement that the judgement would be handed down on Wednesday, ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews said today (April 24): “We are delighted that the Court has dealt with this so quickly. The Justices have obviously been persuaded of the need for a speedy resolution to what has now been five years of legal wrangling.

“The timing of the judgment should force all political parties to sit up and pay attention. If the Court grants us the order that we have requested it will be binding on whoever forms the next government.

“Given that air quality is one of the biggest public health problems the UK faces, it needs to be much higher up the political agenda.”


The case follows a ruling from the European Court of Justice (CJEU) in 2014 and concerns Defra’s failure to meet EU nitrogen dioxide objectives in several UK areas by an original 2010 deadline, and its subsequent failure to apply for an extension to this deadline.

Under Defra’s current air quality plan, published in 2011, the UK is not expected to meet EU legal limits for nitrogen dioxide in three zones — Greater London, West Midlands and West Yorkshire urban areas — until after 2030. This is 20 years later than the original EU legal deadline.

Defra is currently drawing up a new air quality plan to meet the objectives, but ClientEarth has asked the Supreme Court to force Defra to come up with a new plan “within three months” which will meet certain stipulations.

According to the Supreme Court: “This issue in this case is whether, as regards areas where compliance with nitrogen dioxide limits set out in the Directive could not be achieved by 1 January 2010, the Directive requires the Respondent to have prepared an air quality plan which demonstrates compliance by 1 January 2015. If the Court finds there is such a requirement, a further question is what remedies the Court should provide where the Respondent has not prepared an air quality plan which demonstrates such compliance.”


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Roland Gilmore
Roland Gilmore
9 years ago

Good news for Client Earth and for raising environmental issues to the forefront during the latter part of general election campaigning. The major party pre-election agreement on environment issues cannot now be kicked into the long grass. Perhaps the Appeal Court will now expedite the JR applications against Defra and Thames Water

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