Friends of the Earth's Legal Team (illustrated)

Friends of the Earth's legal team

The legal team at Friends of the Earth has been instrumental in major wins like the fight against fracking and stopping Heathrow expansion. Support their work.
  Published:  23 Apr 2020    |      3 minute read

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.

Protecting future generations from climate breakdown

Our legal team secured another big victory in February 2020, when their work alongside local groups opposing a third runway at Heathrow was rewarded with success in the Court of Appeal – a David and Goliath battle if ever there was one.

The team's appeal focused on the government’s climate change and sustainable development commitments, as well as protecting future generations from climate-wrecking infrastructure. 

However, the story isn’t over. A commercial developer, Heathrow Airport Limited, won an appeal in the Supreme Court (the highest court in the country), allowing the project to proceed to the next stage.  


Funding future lawyers

The Phil Michaels Legal Interns Scholarship Fund provides year-long paid internships for aspiring young environmental lawyers. Our newest 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 recently produced a legal briefing on Tree Preservation Orders to help empower people to protect much-loved trees and nature in their areas.

Future work

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.
  • Protecting activists’ freedom to campaign.
  • Defending our historic victory against a proposed third runway at Heathrow, which is being challenged in the Supreme Court by Heathrow Airport Limited.

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.

Help us hold government to account