Green light for legal challenge over NI emissions testing scandal

Press release
Failure to test diesel car emissions to be heard by High Court
  Published:  14 Feb 2023    |      2 minute read

Friends of the Earth has teamed up with The PILS Project and have been granted permission from the High Court to bring a legal challenge against the Department for Infrastructure in relation to a long-running and dangerous air quality failing. The case will now proceed to full hearing in June 2023.

Hundreds of thousands of diesel cars in Northern Ireland have never received a legally compliant exhaust emissions test at government-controlled MOT vehicle testing centres. This failure has continued for the last 17 years.

Together, the two organisations have highlighted serious air pollution concerns caused by diesel emissions and have issued legal proceedings against the Department for Infrastructure over its recurring failure to identify dangerous emissions levels during MOT testing.

Their legal team will argue that in failing to fully test the emissions of diesel cars in Northern Ireland during MOT testing, the Department for Infrastructure has breached its duties not only under vehicle testing law but also its duties to protect public health and the health of Northern Ireland’s biodiversity and wildlife habitats.

James Orr, Director, Friends of the Earth NI commented, “For the Department to consistently fail to comply with the law is nothing short of a major scandal. The science is clear, the law is clear – there is a duty to test emissions in order to protect both public health and the health of habitats. We are taking the government to Court because we all have a right to breathe clean air.”

Maria McCloskey, PILS Director, commented: “This is not just a case about diesel emissions. It is about air quality, environmental protections, and about a fundamental failure of our government to fulfil its legal obligations since 2006.

This case potentially impacts every single person living in Northern Ireland. It is, at its core, a public health issue. We, at PILS, are pleased to be able to offer our support to Friends of the Earth NI in this vitally important legal challenge.”



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.
  2. The Public Interest Litigation Support 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
  3. FOE NI successfully applied to PILS for legal assistance and financial support to initiate this air pollution challenge.
  4. 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’ and the process happens in 2 stages. Applicants with legal standing who want to challenge a decision of a public body must first apply for permission from the Court (or leave) to start a judicial review. Sometimes this requires a hearing. However, where the case is clear a decision can be made solely on the papers lodged by the applicant. If granted, the case moves to the next stage, the full hearing.
  5. 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.
  6. Now that the case has been given permission to proceed, a full Court hearing of the case is scheduled to take place on 19th June 2023.
  7. Friends of the Earth is represented by Ms Monye Anyadike-Danes KC and Mr Aidan McGowan BL.