Targets have slipped and continue to do so
Scottish Government actions to address the prohibitive expense of taking environmental cases to court have been branded ‘truly woeful’ by campaigners
It comes after a report submitted to the UN’s Aarhus Compliance Committee (ACCC) revealed no concrete progress to make access to justice affordable.
The UK is in breach of the Aarhus Convention’s access to justice requirements and only has one year left to meet the recommendations set by the governing bodies, so that citizens can uphold their right to a healthy environment and use legal mechanisms to hold public bodies and polluters to account.
The UK progress report on its Action Plan published on 1 July 2022, was supposed to outline progress towards achieving full compliance by the deadline of 1 October 2024.
Yet environmental campaigners from the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, and the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS) criticised the lack of progress and only vague commitments.
ERCS has since written to Siobhian Brown MSP, minister for victims and community safety, challenging the Scottish Government to provide a clear timetable for reforming legal aid reform, court fees, retrospective planning permission, and the time limits for judicial review.
Shivali Fifield, chief officer at ERCS, said: “Scotland’s progress in removing barriers to access to justice is truly woeful – and the clock is ticking. The persistent failure to address any of the Aarhus Committee’s recommendations is untenable, and the government must act swiftly to address the lack of transparency and lax attitude to deadlines that has plagued their approach thus far.
Fifield said ERCS asked Environmental Standards Scotland in August of last year to investigate the barriers to access to justice and it responded it would wait to see the outcome of the review of PEO rules
“They now need to hold the SCJC to account over their missed deadline and complete lack of transparency, said Fifield.
“The government has committed to enshrine the right to a healthy environment in the Scottish Human Rights Bill, but this will only be tokenistic without affordable, accessible, timely and effective access to justice.”
Aedán Smith, head of policy & advocacy at RSPB Scotland, said: “We call on all the UK administrations to propose properly-considered options for reform before Christmas so that the 1 October 2024 deadline for compliance with the Aarhus Convention can be met.”