Posts Tagged Aarhus

Access to information: The Court of Justice acts to prevent water under the bridge in Client Earth.

Access to information ironically is subject to a myriad of rules and regulations at the EU level: some of a general nature (particularly: Regulation 1049/2001), some lex specialis (such as Directive 2003/35 and Regulation 1367/2006), but with a complex relationship between lex generalis and lex specialis. Add to the mix in the environmental field, public international law in the form of the Aarhus Convention and, well, what you get is an awful lot of regulatory intransparency. Leonie and I have made an attempt succinctly to summarise same in Chapter 5 of our Handbook on EU environmental law.

In C‑57/16 P Client Earth v EC, the CJEU’s Grand Chamber set aside a General Court judgment which had earlier sided largely with the EC viz two requests of information: the first of those requests sought access to the impact assessment report drawn up by the Commission on the implementation of the ‘access to justice’ pillar of the Aarhus Convention, while the second sought access to the impact assessment carried out by the Commission on the revision of the EU legal framework on environmental inspections and surveillance at national and EU level. Both were refused on the ground for exception provided in Regulation 1049/2001, that ‘access to a document, drawn up by an institution for internal use or received by an institution, which relates to a matter where the decision has not been taken by the institution, shall be refused if disclosure of the document would seriously undermine the institution’s decision-making process, unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure.’

The Grand Chamber essentially held that access should be granted: core of its reasoning is at para 92: ‘Although the submission of a legislative proposal by the Commission is, at the impact assessment stage, uncertain, the disclosure of those documents is likely to increase the transparency and openness of the legislative process as a whole, in particular the preparatory steps of that process, and, thus, to enhance the democratic nature of the European Union by enabling its citizens to scrutinise that information and to attempt to influence that process. As is asserted, in essence, by Client Earth, such a disclosure, at a time when the Commission’s decision-making process is still ongoing, enables citizens to understand the options envisaged and the choices made by that institution and, thus, to be aware of the considerations underlying the legislative action of the European Union. In addition, that disclosure puts those citizens in a position effectively to make their views known regarding those choices before those choices have been definitively adopted, so far as both the Commission’s decision to submit a legislative proposal and the content of that proposal, on which the legislative action of the European Union depends, are concerned.

Essentially: a true transparent policy process requires citisens to be able to impact the flow of the water before it disappears under the bridge.

EC Institutions continue to fight rearguard actions against transparency, which subsequently have to be addressed by the likes of Client Earth. The CJEU could not be clearer in highlighting the patch access to EU policy should continue to follow.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Environmental Law, first ed.2017, Chapter 5. (With Leonie Reins).

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Climate change litigation reaches the CJEU’s desk.

Update 24 May 2019 Prediction below has been realised: the case has been declared inadmissible on standing grounds which no doubt will be appealed. All the classics feature: Plaumann; Inuit; Jégo-Quéré; Stichting Greenpeace; with them the issues concerning the implementation by the EU of the Aarhus Convention, an issue which at the moment is subject to an extensive study by Milieu.

One can say many things about climate change litigation by individuals. (See my earlier piece on the Dutch Urgenda case). Many argue that the separation of powers suggest that governments, not judges, should be making climate policy. Or that international environmental law lacks the type of direct effect potentially required for it to be validly invoked by citisens. Others point to the duty of care of Governments; to binding – even if fluffy – climate change obligations taken on since at least the 1990s, and to the utter lack of progress following more than 25 years of international climate change law.

It is therefore no surprise to see that this type of litigation has now also reached the European Court of Justice: the text of the application is here, see also brief legal (by Olivia Featherstone) and Guardian background.

Like cases before it, colleagues shy of preparation materials for an international environmental law course, with comparative EU law thrown in, can use the case to hinge an entire course on.

As Olivia reports, the legal principles involved are the following:

The claimants state that EU emissions leading to climate change are contrary to:

  • The principle of equality (Articles 20 and 21, EU Charter)
  • The principle of sustainable development (Article 3 TEU, Article 11 TFEU)
  • Article 37 EU Charter
  • Article 3 UNFCCC
  • The no harm principle in international law
  • Article 191 ff TFEU (the EU’s environmental policy

One to watch – albeit that standing /locus standi requirements before the CJEU are likely to be a big hurdle: my 2003 paper on same is still relevant (albeit one has to make allowance for Treaty changes since Lisbon).

Geert.

EU Environmental Law, with Leonie Reins, Edward Elgar, 1st ed. 2017, part I Chapter 2 in particular.

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Looking for a PhD or paper topic? Public interest litigation and access to industry standards.

Perhaps it has been studied already. Perhaps it is more of a PhD chapter, short paper or indeed a case for public interest litigation. Stephanie Bijlmakers and I had a good moan about the lack of access to ISO standards when we wrote on ISO 26000. I now have encountered again how extraordinary it is that the public do not have free access to industry standards with such high societal relevance. The trigger this time round is one of our PhD students enquiring with me about recyclable content in packaging. This has sent me on a goose chase to gain access to a copy without having to fork out £170 each for 5 relevant CEN standards.

So here’s my research starter for ten: could and if so under what circumstances can privately developed yet publicly approved standards be considered environmental information under relevant EU and international rules, access to which needs to be granted without charge?

Geert.

 

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COMI for groups of companies. The Brussels commercial court in Parfip.

Thank you to both Patrick Wauthelet and Arie van Hoe for forwarding a copy of the judgment of the Brussels commercial court in Parfip. Please pop me an e-mail should you like a copy. The judgment is textbook application of CJEU precedent, including of course Eurofood and Interedil. Fully respecting the presumption of individual COMI in the case of a group of companies, the judgment refers to ia German and French precedent in rebuking the presumption. Not only were the companies effectively run from Brussels, notwithstanding non-Belgian seat for some of them; to third parties it was also clear that this was the case.

The judgment also confirms a narrow interpretation of the exception for ‘credit institutions’.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.2.Heading 5.6.1.2.4.

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Information law: when something is “on” an environmental measure

Aarhus, Access to Environmental Information Directive. Review of Henney [2017] EWCA Civ 844 .

 

UK Human Rights Blog

Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy v. Information Commissioner and Henney [2017] EWCA Civ 844 , 29 June 2017 – read judgment

As many will know, there are two different systems of freedom of information, the first and better known, the Freedom for Information Act 2000, and the second, the Environmental Information Regulations 2009. From the perspective of the inquirer (Mr Henney, here), the EIRs are the more favourable, and it was the differences between the systems which gave rise to this long-running dispute to do with energy Smart Meters.

The appeal went in favour of Mr Henney, and the Information Commissioner who had ruled in his favour. But the ultimate case is not resolved, as I shall explain.

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Not the Muppet show. FREP, FREP, FREP and Frogmore. Determination of COMI for groups and SPVs. The High Court pushes head office approach.

In [2017] EWHC 25 (Ch) the Frogmore Group,  there are three relevant companies: FREP (Knowle) Limited. FREP (Ellesmere Port) Limited and FREP (Belle Vale) Limited all of which were incorporated in and have their registered office in Jersey. The Companies form part of Frogmore group (of which the ultimate parent is Frogmore Property Company Limited). The Frogmore group specialises in real estate investment and management in the UK and each of the Companies owns a shopping centre located at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, Belle Vale in Liverpool and Knowle in Bristol respectively. Each of these shopping centres is managed by Frogmore Real Estate Investment Managers Limited (“FREPIM”), a company formed in England and Wales with its registered office and base for operations at London.

The Nationwide seeking enforcement of security, the group sought a declaration that COMI was at Jersey.

Marshall DJ held with reference to the familiar precedents of Eurofood and Interedil, both featuring heavily in my earlier postings on COMI, but also to Northsea Base Investments in which Birss J paid particular attention to the largest shareholders. Of note is that this reference to the largest shareholders does not entail (and indeed is not so constructed in either Northsea Base or Frogmore) that these get the pick of what COMI might entail. Rather, that the dealings with and experience of one place as being the place where the company’s interest are being managed from, is of particular interest for the Interedil emphasis on ascertainability by third parties. Marshall DJ also rekindles the discussion on whether Interedil’s emphasis is on identifying the ‘Head office’ of the companies: a conclusion which one needs to treat with caution for even in Interedil’s tacit support for the head office approach, the emphasis continues to lie with the combination of factors, all leading to transparency and publicity.

The High Court in the end held with reference to the following: (at 39; all wording as  the judgment but with one or two words left out)

(1) Day- to-day conduct of the business and activities of the Companies has been in the hands of an agent appointed in England, namely FREPIM. Under the Advisory Agreement (which was itself governed by English law and had an English exclusive jurisdiction clause) FREPIM was to take on full responsibility for providing a very large range of services to the Companies, including day-to-day management of the Shopping Centres and dealing with their financing, accounting, marketing and formulation of their business strategy. FREPIM  itself acknowledged that it worked on investment strategy and business plans for the Companies; instructed lawyers, surveyors and consultants for them; negotiated the purchase and sale of properties on their behalf; dealt with their borrowing requirements; and attended to the provision of accounting systems and the preparation of management and annual accounts. These actions were not just limited commercial activities but included the types of function that one would expect a head office to discharge.

(2) Day-to-day dealings with third parties are carried out from the offices of FREPIM at London. This is confirmed by the evidence of the activity of FREPIM described above but it is also supported by, for example, the Companies’ VAT returns where their business address is stated to be those offices. In their day-to-day dealings with third parties regarding expenditure these offices are given as the address for invoices.

(3) If one has regard to the point of view of the largest creditor, Nationwide, the Facility Agreement and the Nationwide Debentures are governed by English law and have an English jurisdiction clause. Under the Facility Agreement the Shareholder is the service agent for the Companies. In the case of the Nationwide Debentures, they have express reference to the power to appoint administrators under the 1986 Act. FREPIM took over the day-to-day contact with Nationwide as well as providing Nationwide with various pieces of information (such as quarterly compliance packs and accounts for borrowers) and did so from London. FREPIM also accepted that the management of the relationship between the Companies and Nationwide had been carried out by [the group treasurer] and the Chairman of the Frogmore group, who was also based in London.

(4) I also note that under the terms of the debentures securing the advances made by the Shareholder that the governing law is English, there is an English exclusive jurisdiction clause, that FREPIM is appointed the service agent of the Companies and there is express provision for the appointment of administrators under the 1986 Act.

The case is a good reminder that even intricate SPV structures should not detract from COMI finding on well-established principles. And that COMI determination always depends on a basket of criteria.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 5, Heading 5.6.1.2., Heading 5.6.1.2.4.

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CJEU finds Aarhus does not add value in Belgian VAT case.

As a practising lawyer registered to the Belgian Bar I had more than a passing interest in C‑543/14 Orde van Vlaamse Balies v Ministerraad. The case was held on 28 July. At issue is the reversal of the Belgian exemption of legal services from value-added tax (VAT). Of interest for this blog was the Bar Council’s argument that making legal services subject to VAT endangers access to court for individuals. Corporations recover said VAT from the tax their own sales incur. For them, making legal services subject to VAT has zero impact on their books.

The Bar Council sought support among others in the Aarhus Convention, particularly Article 9(4) and (5) on access to court:

‘3.       In addition and without prejudice to the review procedures referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2 above, each Party shall ensure that, where they meet the criteria, if any, laid down in its national law, members of the public have access to administrative or judicial procedures to challenge acts and omissions by private persons and public authorities which contravene provisions of its national law relating to the environment.

4.       In addition and without prejudice to paragraph 1 above, the procedures referred to in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 above shall provide adequate and effective remedies, including injunctive relief as appropriate, and be fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive. Decisions under this article shall be given or recorded in writing. Decisions of courts, and whenever possible of other bodies, shall be publicly accessible.

5.       In order to further the effectiveness of the provisions of this article, each Party shall ensure that information is provided to the public on access to administrative and judicial review procedures and shall consider the establishment of appropriate assistance mechanisms to remove or reduce financial and other barriers to access to justice.’

Perhaps taking inspiration from the Grand Chamber’s approach in Vereniging Milieudefensie, and consistent with the suggestion of Sharpston AG, the five judges Chamber dismissed direct effect for Articles 9(4) and (5) of Aarhus, mostly because of the Conventions deference in Article 9(3) to ‘national law’.

Given the increasing (but as noted recently qualified; see also here) cloud the CJEU’s Grand Chamber had been given Aarhus, this finding by a five judge chamber that Aarhus Articles 9(4) and (5) do not have direct effect is a little awkward. It also puts the Grand Chamber itself in a challenging position. There are quite a number of Aarhus-related cases pending. Will this chamber’s view on 9(4) and (5) be followed by the assembled top dogs? And if it is not, can the Grand Chamber overrule or distinguish without embarrassment?

Geert.

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