Court grants NI’s children and young people right to be heard in landmark air quality case

Press release
The High Court in Belfast has confirmed that the voices of children and young people will be heard as part of a milestone environmental case on air quality in Northern Ireland.
  Published:  21 Jun 2023    |      4 minute read

The High Court in Belfast has confirmed that the voices of children and young people will be heard as part of a milestone environmental case on air quality in Northern Ireland. 

On Monday the High Court confirmed that the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) can intervene in the ongoing Clean Air NI challenge. 

In May, NICCY had requested permission from the High Court to share their expertise as part of the case. The statutory body, set up to protect the rights of young people, is concerned about the harmful effects of air pollution on the health of children across Northern Ireland.  

At a court review, less than a week after Clean Air Day 2023, Mr Justice Adrian Colton confirmed that NICCY’s request has been approved by the Court.  

The landmark Clean Air NI judicial review, taken by Friends of the Earth NI and backed by The PILS Project, attempts to hold the Department for Infrastructure to account for its 17-year-long failure to identify dangerous emissions levels during MOT testing.

The case was scheduled to begin in the High Court on Monday 19 June 2023. However, the Department for Infrastructure has asked for more time to examine NICCY’s submissions. The full hearing has now been pushed back until 21 September 2023.   

Laura Neal, lawyer at Friends of the Earth NI responded to the news: “In this landmark legal case Friends of the Earth, proudly supported by The PILS Project, aims to address something that is essential for every living thing on this planet – clean air free from pollution. It is hugely significant that NICCY have been granted permission to intervene in this case. Globally, the voices and views of children and young people have been crucial in the fight for a healthier planet and NICCY’s intervention will ensure that they are rightly heard in this case too."

Maria McCloskey, PILS Director, reacted saying: “This decision is crucial – because it goes to the heart of public interest litigation. It is extremely important that all relevant information is before the court when it is carrying out its deliberations. Through its third-party intervention, NICCY has a vital role to play in these proceedings by informing the court of the legal implications for children and young people of the alleged failings in this case.”

Mairead McCafferty, NICCY Chief Executive, commented: “I very much welcome our intervention in this milestone case. Our focus is on our children and young people and the potentially irreversible damage being caused to their developing lungs and respiratory systems because of the level of toxic emissions pumping out from vehicles’ engines. It is of paramount importance that more comprehensive and urgent action be taken to protect our children and young people - faced not only with this environmental pollutant source but also with the existential threat posed by climate change overall. Article 24 of the UNCRC affords all children the right to live in a safe and healthy environment, which must be upheld. Our children should not have to pay the price for environmental degradation but rather be able to breathe the clean air they deserve.”

For media requests, please contact: 

James Orr, Director, Friends of the Earth, Northern Ireland at 02890 233 488 or [email protected]  

Laura Neal, Lawyer, Friends of the Earth, Northern Ireland at 02890 233 488 or [email protected]  

Friends of the Earth UK Media Team at 020 7566 1649 or [email protected]  

Emma Cassidy, Senior Engagement Lead, The PILS Project at +44 28 9099 4258 or [email protected] 

Cathal McGuigan, Assistant Communications Officer, NICCY, at 028 9031 1616 / 0794 9016 313 or [email protected]

Notes for editors: 

  1. Friends of the Earth is an environmental justice charity with a regional office in Belfast that undertakes campaigning and other work including legal interventions in furtherance of its objectives to ensure that each generation enjoys an environment that is getting better, a safer climate, abundant nature, healthy air water and food. It encourages people to come together to transform our environment into one which is flourishing, sustainable and socially just.  

  1. The Public Interest Litigation Support (PILS) Project is Northern Ireland’s first and only legal project dedicated to helping local NGOs and legal professionals to build public interest litigation. These are life-changing legal cases that create positive impact, not just for one person, but for communities across Northern Ireland:  

  1. NICCY was established through the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Northern Ireland) Order 2003.  This outlines NICCY’s functions, duties and powers and the principal purpose of the Office (under Article 6(1) which is to ‘safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young people’. The age remit includes those up to the age of 18 and those up to 21 years if they have a disability, or have experience of being in the care of the State. The Commissioner has an advice service for children and young people and their families if they feel they are not being treated fairly, or have a complaint about the services they receive, or are meant to receive.  

  1. FOE NI successfully applied to PILS for legal assistance and financial support to initiate this air pollution challenge. More information on PILS’ free services is available here:   

  1. Judicial review is a particular type of court action where an individual/group with legal standing may challenge the lawfulness of a decision or action (including failure to act) of a public body. Judicial review is a remedy of ‘last resort’. 

  1. Friends of the Earth NI lodged their application for leave to judicially review the Department for Infrastructure’s ongoing failure to adequately test diesel car emissions on 3 February 2023 and leave was granted on all grounds by the Court a few days later on 8 February 2023.  

  1. In May 2023, NICCY applied for permission (‘leave’) to intervene as a third party in the Clean Air NI case. A third-party intervention means involving an individual or group, who is a “stranger” to a particular set of legal proceedings, in the case. If the court grants the individual or a group permission to become a third party to the proceedings, the individual or group is able to provide written or oral representation before the court. 

  1. The full court hearing of the case is now scheduled to take place on 21 September 2023.  

  1. Friends of the Earth NI is represented by Ms Monye Anyadike-Danes KC and Mr Aidan McGowan BL.