Our legal team is led by solicitor Will Rundle. The team fights climate-wrecking decisions, doing the complex background work on what’s legal and what’s not. And they work with our campaigners to draft legislation that will help protect people and planet.
"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.
"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 breakdown, 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 from Friends of the Earth's legal team
Defending the right to protest
The team worked with communities and activists to secure a win on fracking. For example, they fought to protect the right to protest peacefully – which is essential for community resistance – and contributed to the release of 3 peaceful protesters from jail in a landmark ruling at the Court of Appeal. What’s more, following a record-breaking earthquake in Lancashire caused by Cuadrilla’s fracking activities which made homes shake, the team lobbied the Oil and Gas Authority and helped pile pressure on government to introduce the fracking moratorium.
In February 2023, the Supreme Court heard an appeal by Friends, Families and Travellers, London Gypsies and Travellers and Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group against the use of wide-ranging “anti-Traveller” injunctions taken out by Wolverhampton City Council and numerous other councils. Our legal team intervened to support the appeal and made written submissions and also got permission to make oral submissions – a difficult thing to achieve as an intervener – in the hearing itself.
Protecting future generations from climate breakdown
Thanks to the collective work of our legal team and those who support our cases, we took the government to court – and won. Back in July 2022 we celebrated our legal team’s victory on holding the government to account for not delivering a meaningful Net Zero Strategy that shows how legally-binding carbon reduction targets will be met. On 30 March 2023 the government published its revised strategy, and our lawyers are carefully studying the detail to see if the new version stacks up.
Shaping Northern Ireland's first ever Climate Change Act
After repeatedly being denied a climate change law by the Northern Ireland government, Friends of the Earth, along with our friends in the Climate Coalition and with the backing of many thousands of supporters, contributed to creating and passing the new law. It’s one of the first climate laws in the world to specifically recognise the role that gender plays in climate justice and that gender equality is a key part of the transition to a fairer, sustainable society. This is a clear example of people power in action and using the legal system for systemic change.
Upholding equality in government strategies
In March 2022, Friends of the Earth lawyers were given the green light to take our case challenging the government's Heat and Buildings Strategy to the High Court. Our legal team challenged the government’s failure to consider the Strategy’s impact on groups such as disabled people, the elderly and people of colour. We’re delighted that the government agreed with us and is now going back and assessing the impacts of its strategy on these groups to bring it in line with the Equalities Act.
Funding future lawyers
The Phil Michaels Legal Interns Scholarship Fund provides year-long paid internships for aspiring environmental lawyers. Our former intern, Conso Enobakhare, says:
"Campaigning for environmental justice reflects my desire to understand how the rule of law can be harnessed to bring about urgent change. The current political climate makes this experience even more worthwhile, as I get practical insight on environmental litigation and policy making in the UK. This year at Friends of the Earth will give me the confidence and tools to progress into a career as an environmental lawyer."
Shaping policy to protect the planet
Winning doesn't always come in the form of High Court rulings and newspaper headlines. The team's work behind the scenes is just as important for shaping policies and helping communities:
- The team helped develop legislation for the Plastic Pollution Bill, alongside campaigners and external advisors.
- Members of the legal team regularly speak at events to raise awareness of issues, share expert knowledge with campaigners and influence policy debates.
- The team brief grassroots campaigners, community groups and other members of the public on how they can use the law to protect the environment. For example, they produced a legal briefing on Tree Preservation Orders to help empower people to protect much-loved trees and nature in their areas.
Friends of the Earth's work as a whole, helped by supporters' donations, plays a key role in our drive to push the environment to the top of the political agenda. All major political parties now emphasise its importance, and the team hope to achieve more "wins" for the environment in the future. Over the next few months the team will be:
- Investigating the use of UK taxpayers’ money to fund fossil fuel projects abroad, including UK government financial support for a mega-gas project in Mozambique
- Protecting activists’ freedom to campaign and challenging “anti-Traveller’ injunctions.
- Pursuing our challenge to the decision to green light a new coal mine in Cumbria.
- In Northern Ireland’s High Court to challenge the Lough Larne gas caverns, and to challenge long-running failings in diesel emissions testing.
Every case we take on and every campaign we launch has the potential to set legal precedents and contribute to driving critical changes in government policy.
And, vitally, this work has helped encourage people to change their habits, using their voices – and their hard-earned cash – to show governments and big businesses that they won’t stand for complacency when it comes to tackling climate breakdown.