Scotland’s legal system has been found to be in breach of the international human rights and environmental treaty known as the Aarhus Convention on ten separate occasions. This is because the costs of legal action to protect and uphold environmental laws in Scotland are prohibitively expensive. We are advocating for reforms to Scotland’s civil justice system so that it becomes affordable for everyone to uphold environmental laws in a court or tribunal.
The Aarhus Convention upholds the following human rights for every person:
- the right to be informed and have access to information about the environment;
- the right to participate in environmental decision-making; and
- the right of easy and effective access to justice.
The right of access to justice allows citizens to challenge the legality of environmental decision, acts or omissions. This is crucial because the environment has no legal voice of its own, and also because we all have a right to a healthy environment.
But in practice, it can costs tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds to go to court to try to defend the environment in Scotland. This is in breach of Article 9(4) of the Convention which requires access to justice to be ‘fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive.’
In October 2021, The Aarhus Convention’s governing institutions required the UK and Scottish governments to submit an action plan detailing, ‘as a matter of urgency’ , the reforms they will implement to achieve compliance by the deadline of October 2024.
The Scottish Government contributed to the UK Action Plan which was submitted in July 2022. ERCS welcomes the Scottish Government’s acknowledgement in the Action Plan that access to justice on environmental matters is prohibitively expensive. However, corresponding legal and policy commitments are not clearly specified and more needs to be done. Read our Evaluation of Scotland’s action plan and recommendations for reform, July 2022.
In August 2022, ERCS submitted a representation to Environmental Standards Scotland on the systemic barriers on access to justice in environmental matters. This was followed by a letter submitted to the Minister for Community Safety, which outlined our concerns regarding the plan of action to address non-compliance on access to justice.