In a report published this week, the UN’s Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee said it was disappointed in “the marked shortcomings” in a progress report submitted by the UK government.
The UK government was asked to submit a detailed progress report in 2017, after the committee said that policies introduced by the government meant that the UK was moving further away from the convention’s goals.
Among its recommendations, the committee said in 2017 that the UK had to ensure that independent legal review procedures should not be “prohibitively expensive” and that the government should consider the establishment of assistance mechanisms to reduce financial barriers to access to justice.
However, in response to the government’s progress report, which was published on 1 October 2018, the compliance committee said the UK had entirely failed to report on these points.
In addition, it stated: “The first progress report provides very little new information, and consists overwhelmingly of information already provided, often word for word, to the committee in the last intersessional period”.
The UK government is required to submit further reports in October 2019 and 2020, although there is no mechanism to compel the UK to comply with the Aarhus Convention.
Activist lawyers ClientEarth noted that the committee had “abandoned its usually diplomatic language”. Karla Hill, ClientEarth’s global programmes counsel, said: “Those that choose to take legal action should not have to worry about risking their financial security for standing up for the common good.This stinging rebuke from the United Nations shows that the UK must take seriously its international legal obligations to enable people to rely on the legal system to protect our shared environment.”