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EU court ruling on UK air quality in favour of ClientEarth

21st Nov 2014

The UK government will be pursued for breaching EU air quality standards by ClientEarth after the court judgment.

The court ruling is the first relating to the EU Air Quality Directive, which sets legal limits and target dates for reducing air pollution. Now that the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has made its decision, UK courts now have the power to ‘take any necessary measure’ to ensure these targets are met by the British government.

ClientEarth, a not-for-profit legal group, has followed the case through the High Court, Court of Appeal (CoA) and the Supreme Court under the guidance of Alan Andrews, ClientEarth partner, and aided by Dinah Rose QC, Emma Dixon and Ben Jaffey of Blackstone Chambers.

Four years ago, ClientEarth launched the campaign against the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) after it was found that 17 regions and cities would not meet the pollution limits set by the EU until after the 2015 target date. The areas included Birmingham, Manchester, London, Glasgow and Cardiff.

It was ruled at the time that the UK was in breach of the EU directive, but did not suggest a solution, instead handing responsibility for it to the Commission. The Court of Appeal also acknowledged the breach, but similarly refused to hand over a solution. Instead, siding with ClientEarth, the CoA referred the issue to the CJEU, giving the EU court the power to decide any action taken against the UK, and the measures to be put in place to meet the targets.

The final ruling by the Supreme Court will take place next year, which is when judges will apply the CJEU ruling to the UK.