In court: September 2015

28th August 2015

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  • EU ,
  • UK government ,
  • Environment agencies ,
  • Corporate fine



A round-up of the latest environmental court cases.

Court backs greater transparency over breaches of EU law

The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) has ruled that the public have the right to know whether their government is breaking environmental law.

The European commission currently does not make public the outcome of studies to determine whether member states are correctly implementing legislation to protect human health and the environment. Environmental law NGO ClientEarth challenged this policy in the courts, arguing that the Aarhus Convention on access to environmental information, which the EU signed nearly 20 years ago, requires the studies to be available.

ClientEarth first applied to see the studies in 2010 and the commission released some, generally those revealing minor breaches of law by member states. However, it withheld information on major infractions, mainly those that would require legal action by the commission and which relate mostly to waste and water. In 2013, the EU General Court (GC) backed the commission’s policy of keeping studies confidential because they formed part of authorities’ investigations into breaches of legislation. ClientEarth appealed and the CJEU has sent the case back to the GC.

The GC will now examine some studies and decide whether the commission’s demand for confidentiality is founded. ClientEarth says it expects the results in late 2015 or early 2016. The ruling in support of greater transparency does not stretch to studies that resulted in infringement proceedings against a member state, however. Anaïs Berthier, a lawyer at the NGO, warned: “This means the worst law-breaking by EU governments risks being kept confidential, and the infringement proceedings remain completely opaque. Negotiations can go on for years behind closed doors, denying people the right to hold governments to account when they break environmental laws.”

Online trader breaks three regimes

Online shopping company Babz Media has been fined £45,500 for failing to comply with the producer responsibility rules on packaging, batteries and electrical and electronic equipment. It is the first time a firm in the UK has been prosecuted for breaching all three regimes.

The west London-based company, which sells electrical cables, blank media and batteries through online marketplaces, pleaded guilty at Ealing magistrates’ court for failing to register with the Environment Agency and a producer recycling scheme for its packaging waste, waste batteries and electrical waste between 2011 and 2014. The firm also pleaded guilty to avoiding the costs of collecting and recycling the three waste streams between 2011 and 2013.

The agency said Babz Media had imported 163.7 tonnes of batteries between 2011 and 2013, and 188 tonnes of electrical equipment in 2012 and 2013. It was also obligated under the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007 to recycle 76 tonnes of packaging waste in 2013.

Hannah Wooldridge, senior officer at the agency, said: “Online trading does not excuse companies from being compliant with the law. This company didn’t meet their legal obligations through ignorance after starting trading. It remained non-compliant for over three years and that impacted others in the market due to the commercial advantage it had.”

As well as the fine, Babz Media was ordered to pay the agency £8,725 to cover the avoided registration fees and the regulator’s prosecution costs.

Cheese spread infringes permit

A cheese factory and its owner and manager have been ordered to pay £30,680 in fines and costs for polluting a stream, illegally damming another stream and breaching an environmental permit. Devon-based Parkham Farms, which produces around 4,000 tonnes of Cheddar cheese a year, and Peter Willes and Richard Marsden, who also run a farming partnership, pleaded guilty to allowing slurry to pollute a watercourse at a farm near Bideford; constructing an illegal dam in a stream near Hartland; and spreading waste from the factory on land in breach of a condition of the site’s environmental permit.


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