Law courts at the Old Bailey, London

Using the law to defend the environment

"Friends of the Earth’s legal team strives for environmental justice. We want to create a positive space for civil society to take action and freely express itself.

The legal team is small, but our ambitions are large.

A key part of our work revolves around strategic litigation. This means mounting carefully-planned cases that are bigger than the sum of their parts.

For example we've rolled back oil and gas industry injunctions that were stifling protest against fracking.

And we've brought cases against damaging developments – to stop them, but also to raise awareness of their larger impacts. Such as our litigation to stop Heathrow expansion or opencast coal sites in Northumberland.

Win, lose, or draw, we aim for more than a decision. We want to shift the balance of public and political discourse on crucial topics such as climate change, plastic pollution and equality for all.

Challenging injustice where we find it is crucial, even when the odds may be against us. Tackling the causes of injustice is what matters most.

The power for that of course lies with you – the people. That is why there is always hope, and why we must act together."

Will Rundle and Katie de Kauwe, Friends of the Earth legal team

Heathrow Judicial Review

Heathrow is the largest single source of carbon emissions in the UK. In 2016 it emitted more CO2 than Croatia. We do not need a third climate-wrecking runway. Friends of the Earth took a lead role in legal efforts against the irresponsible decision to expand. Our case rested on the legal requirement to consider the needs of future generations as part of sustainable development and mitigating climate change. It exemplified the hard choices we need to make to keep the planet safe for our children. Although we lost our case in May 2019, we will seek an appeal.

Frack Free Three

In 2018, Simon Blevins, Richard Roberts and Rich Loizou were sent to prison. Known as the 'Frack Free Three', they were jailed for causing a public nuisance during protests at Cuadrilla's site at Preston New Road in Lancashire. We joined Liberty to intervene in the mens' appeal in October 2018. We argued that their good-faith concerns about the environment had been wrongly used to justify draconian sentencing. Their sentences were quashed, and they walked free within hours of the appeal hearing.

National Planning Policy Framework

Good environmental governance is about action, not empty words. In December 2018 we took the government to court over its new national planning policy. This planning policy sets the guidelines for land use and development throughout England. We argued that it should be the subject of meaningful environmental assessment. Disappointingly the government got off on a technicality. However, we did succeed in establishing that the policy does have a determinative impact on the planning system and a significant effect on the environment.

Druridge Bay opencast coal mine

In 2018 the government rejected a proposed new opencast coal mine at Druridge Bay in Northumberland on climate change grounds. Unfortunately, the developer Banks Mining appealed and won, forcing the government to reconsider. Friends of the Earth is campaigning for the Communities Secretary James Brokenshire to reject the mine again on climate change grounds.

Judicial Review costs protection

Environmental claims are public-interest claims because we all depend on a healthy environment for our daily lives. The environment cannot take its own cases, but the UK signed the Aarhus Convention to facilitate access to justice for environmental claimants with this in mind. However litigation can be expensive and risky because if you lose you will pay the other side's legal bill. When the government changed the rules that protected claimants from excessive legal costs, we challenged them to ensure financial protections remained.

Right to protest

Fracking companies have been seeking an increasing number of injunctions to suppress protests at their sites. We believe that these injunctions are disproportionate and are an attack on free speech. In March 2019 we intervened in support of the appeal against Ineos’ injunction. The Court of Appeal found that Ineos’ injunction was unlawful. Our next case is an appeal to challenge an injunction by UK Oil and Gas.

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