Big EU News! (Latest CJEU Case on Appropriate Assessment & A Draft Withdrawal Agreement)

The European Court of Justice is certainly turning the screws this year via various cases in relation to the Republic of Ireland, with now three rulings against its Planning Board, An Bord Pleanála. Following People Over Wind (see my 20 April 2018 blog post EU Court Ruling: Ignore Mitigation Measures In Habitats Screening) and Grace, Sweetman (see the second half of my 18 August 2018 blog post What Is Mitigation?) we now have Holohan (CJEU, 7 November 2018).

In basic summary:

People Over Wind has removed the ability for the competent authority to screen out the need for appropriate assessment, under the Conservation of Habitats Regulations 2017, on the basis that a significant effect on a Special Protection Area or Special Area of Conservation is unlikely, where that conclusion is reliant on proposed mitigation measures. The result has been far more projects and plans requiring appropriate assessment to ascertain that they will not adversely affect the integrity of the relevant SPA or SAC.

Grace, Sweetman has removed the ability for the competent authority to reach a conclusion at appropriate assessment stage that there will be no adverse effect on integrity, where mitigation measures are relied on that in reality amount to compensatory measures for the loss of habitat.

Holohan now imposes more detailed requirements on the competent authority at appropriate assessment stage:

1.  […] an ‘appropriate assessment’ must, on the one hand, catalogue the entirety of habitat types and species for which a site is protected, and, on the other, identify and examine both the implications of the proposed project for the species present on that site, and for which that site has not been listed, and the implications for habitat types and species to be found outside the boundaries of that site, provided that those implications are liable to affect the conservation objectives of the site.

2.  […] the competent authority is permitted to grant to a plan or project consent which leaves the developer free to determine subsequently certain parameters relating to the construction phase, such as the location of the construction compound and haul routes, only if that authority is certain that the development consent granted establishes conditions that are strict enough to guarantee that those parameters will not adversely affect the integrity of the site.

3.   […] where the competent authority rejects the findings in a scientific expert opinion recommending that additional information be obtained, the ‘appropriate assessment’ must include an explicit and detailed statement of reasons capable of dispelling all reasonable scientific doubt concerning the effects of the work envisaged on the site concerned.

If you are relying on an appropriate assessment in relation to a project or plan, I suggest that you urgently check that it addresses these three requirements. An decision taken in reliance upon an appropriate assessment which does not cover off these points will be susceptible to legal challenge. If caught at the right time, deficiencies should be able to be addressed by some extra work. But it will be too late to rectify matters once the appropriate assessment is reached and the decision taken.

These CJEU rulings are unambiguous in their stated conclusions on the law, very different from our common law approach.

They are also likely to continue to be relevant, regardless of what happens with Brexit. After all, as set out in my 18 September 2018 blog post Planning, Brexit, Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs has committed that:

Where environmental principles are contained in specific pieces of EU legislation, these will be maintained as part of our domestic legal framework through the retention of EU law under the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Any question as to the interpretation of retained EU law will be determined by UK courts in accordance with relevant pre-exit CJEU case law and general principles, subject to the other exceptions and restrictions within the Bill. For example, CJEU case law on chemicals, waste and habitats includes judgments on the application of the precautionary principle to those areas. This will therefore be preserved by the Bill“.

As set out in that blog post, we are still waiting for the draft Bill, required by section 16 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act to be published by Boxing Day 2018, that will set out the environmental principles to be applied post Brexit and the body that will enforce them.

What we now have seen of course is the draft withdrawal agreement published on 14 November 2018. Who knows whether it will be concluded but it envisages that the CJEU will continue to have jurisdiction in any proceedings brought against the UK during the transition period to 31 December 2020.

In the event of the backstop being triggered at the end of the transitional period if the Irish border issue hasn’t been settled, a series of commitments in relation to environmental protection will kick in, as set out in Part 2 of Annex 4 to the Protocol on Northern Ireland/Ireland (pages 356 to 360 of the overall draft agreement). The commitments include:

– Non-regression in level of environmental protection subsisting at the end of the transitional period.

– The principles to be reflected in legislation:

a)  the precautionary principle;
b)  the principle that preventive action should be taken;

c) the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source; and
d)  the “polluter pays” principle

– The Joint Committee shall adopt decisions laying down minimum commitments for:

a)  the reduction of national emissions of certain atmospheric pollutants;
b)  the maximum sulphur content of marine fuels

c) those best available techniques, including emission limit values, in relation to industrial emissions

– Commitment to meet international obligations as to addressing climate change

– Commitment to carbon pricing and trading of allowance consistent with EU system

– Finally, although much of this is already in hand via section 16 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act and/or the subject of other international obligations, a commitment to effective enforcement of environmental laws as well as the following:

The United Kingdom shall ensure that administrative and judicial proceedings are available in order to permit effective and timely action by public authorities and members of the public against violations of its laws, regulations and practices, and provide for effective remedies, including interim measures, ensuring that any sanctions are effective, proportionate and dissuasive and have a real and deterrent effect.

The United Kingdom shall implement a transparent system for the effective domestic monitoring, reporting, oversight and enforcement of its obligations pursuant to this Article and to Article 2 by an independent and adequately resourced body or bodies…

The independent body shall have powers to conduct inquiries on its own initiative concerning alleged breaches by public bodies and authorities of the United Kingdom, and to receive complaints for the purposes of conducting such inquiries. It shall have all powers necessary to carry out its functions, including the power to request information. The independent body shall have the right to bring a legal action before a competent court or tribunal in the United Kingdom in an appropriate judicial procedure, with a view to seeking an adequate remedy.”

Professor Colin Reid’s 15 November 2018 blog post Environmental Commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement is a very good commentary on all of these provisions.

Finally, fabulous timing on the part of UKELA to have secured for next week’s annual Garner lecture Professor Juliane Kokott, Advocate General at the CJEU (who has been at the centre of so much EU case law, including the People Over Wind and Holohan cases referred to above). It will be fascinating to hear her perspective.

Simon Ricketts, 16 November 2018

Personal views, et cetera

PS David Elvin QC has since reminded me that the CJEU also on 7 November handed down its judgment in the Dutch Nitrogen Deposition case, which also contains important rulings in relation to appropriate assessment, for instance the extent to which agricultural activities amount to a “project”, as well as the extent of certainty required if conservation measures are to be relied upon as mitigation. See James Maurici QC’s blog post.

What The EU (Withdrawal) Bill Would Mean For (eg) EIA

So now we have, without any great surprises, what was first to be the Great Repeal Bill, then the Repeal Bill and now is the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. It comes alongside extensive Explanatory Notes as well as a Memorandum justifying the use of delegated powers in the Bill .
This is a very narrowly defined blog post, asking myself one question: What does the Bill tell us in England about what will happen to EU law based legislation such as the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 once we reach the “exit date” (defined in the Bill as a date to be appointed by a minister but in practice to be 29 March 2019 or earlier, due to service by the Government of its Article 50 notice on 29 March 2017)? I have confined myself to England: there are additional complexities ahead for the devolved administrations. 
The EIA Regulations are EU-derived domestic legislation, as defined in the Bill, deriving as they do from the EIA Directive ie Directive 2011/92/EU as amended in 2014 by Directive 2014/52/EU. 
Clause 2(1) of the Bill provides:
“EU-derived domestic legislation, as it has effect in domestic law immediately before exit day, continues to have effect in domestic law on and after exit day.

So the Regulations will remain in force unchanged post exit day.   
For the avoidance of doubt clause 5(1) provides:
“The principle of the supremacy of EU law does not apply to any enactment or rule of law passed or made on or after exit day.”

So any change to environmental protection that is made following exit date cannot be challenged on the basis that it is contrary to EU law. Legislation excluding say the construction of a specific infrastructure project or type of infrastructure from EIA, or weakening its operation? There would no longer be any recourse to the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). But that would be the effect of leaving the EU in any event, so hardly needs to be spelt out. 
(Of course, the Government will need to ensure that any such legislation did not breach other international obligations such as the Espoo Convention and Aarhus Convention – where breaches are far more difficult to challenge by a complainant, whether in the domestic courts or in any international forum)
At present, in interpreting EU-derived legislation, our domestic courts have to apply EU law principles, having regard to decisions of the CJEU. After exit day, this will no longer be the case, in that there will be no requirement to have regard to post exit day decisions. Clause 6(1) provides:
“A court or tribunal

(a)  is not bound by any principles laid down, or any decisions made, on or after exit day by the European Court, and 

(b)  cannot refer any matter to the European Court on or after exit day.

Clause 6(2) makes it clear that a court may do “if it considers it appropriate to do so” but does not have to. So, (1) there will be uncertainty as to whether to bring post exit day CJEU rulings or advocate-general opinions before the domestic court to assist with interpretation (and so in practice they will be trawled out) and (2) CJEU jurisprudence is likely slowly to take a different direction to that of our domestic courts. Not straight-forward!
For a period from the coming into law of the Bill and two years after exit day, the Government will be going through all EU-law derived legislation, with the objective of making it continue to work post Brexit. Clause 7(1) provides:
A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate to prevent, remedy or mitigate— 

(a)  any failure of retained EU law to operate effectively, or 


(b)  any other deficiency in retained EU law, 


arising from the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU. “

The justification in the accompanying memorandum: “Retained EU law will contain thousands of failures and deficiencies. This power enables UK ministers and the devolved authorities to make corrections in time for exit to ensure a functioning statute book.

Clause 7(6) contains some protections:
But regulations under this section may not— 

(a)  impose or increase taxation,

(b)  make retrospective provision, 


(c)  create a relevant criminal offence, 


(d)  be made to implement the withdrawal agreement, 


(e)  amend, repeal or revoke the Human Rights Act 1998 or any subordinate legislation made under it, or 


(f)  amend or repeal the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (unless the regulations
 are made by virtue of paragraph 13(b) of Schedule 7 to this Act or are amending or repealing paragraph 38 of Schedule 3 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 or any provision of that Act which modifies another enactment). “


The memorandum says this by way of example: “The impact of not making such changes would include inadvertently removing environmental protections. The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017 require an environmental impact assessment of certain applications for planning permission. They refer to “other EEA States” in a number of places, mainly in the context of development likely to have significant transboundary environmental effects. A correction amending the references to “other EEA States” to “EEA States”, would make it clear that the requirement on transboundary consultation continues to function on exit as it does now. This would remove uncertainty and help ensure that an important piece of environmental protection law continues to operate effectively. “

I referred to obligations arising under other international obligations. Clause 8(1) provides:
“A Minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate to prevent or remedy any breach, arising from 
the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, of the international obligations of the United Kingdom.

The memorandum more generally seeks to justify the breadth of use of delegated ministerial powers under the Bill:
“i. Time: The two year timetable for exit is provided for in Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union. Therefore, the UK needs to be in a position to control its own laws from March 2019, which is why the UK Government and devolved administrations need to take a power so they can act quickly and flexibly to provide a functioning statute book. The complexity of identifying and making appropriate amendments to the converted and preserved body of law should not be underestimated. There is over 40 years of EU law to consider and amend to ensure that our statute book functions properly on our exit from the EU. According to EUR- Lex, the EU’s legal database, there are currently over 12,000 EU regulations and over 6,000 EU directives in force across the EU.2 We are not yet in a position to set out in primary legislation how each failure and deficiency should be addressed, nor would it be practical to do so…”

“ii. Practicality: The power will be exercised by UK ministers and the devolved authorities, enabling them to make the necessary corrections to the statute book required to make the law function effectively in their own field of expertise and competence. Making all corrections on the face of the Bill, at this stage, would not be practical. 

iii. Flexibility: Many of the potential deficiencies or failures in law arise in areas in which the UK is considering pursuing a negotiated outcome with the EU. The UK must be ready to respond to all eventualities as we negotiate with the EU. Whatever the outcome, the UK Government and devolved authorities, with the appropriate scrutiny by Parliament and the devolved legislatures, must be able to deliver a functioning statute book for day one post-exit.”

So in the case of environmental impact assessment, are we likely to see any early substantive changes? In my view we won’t. What we will see is amendments made so as to seek to ensue that the Regulations still work in legal terms post exit day and there may be arguments as to whether some of those amendments go beyond what is required to achieve that aim. But the substantive changes (which I’m sure will come) will be for a later stage. The explanatory notes to the Bill say this: “The Bill does not aim to make major changes to policy or establish new legal frameworks in the UK beyond those which are necessary to ensure the law continues to function properly from day one. The Government will introduce separate primary legislation to make such policy changes which will establish new legal frameworks.” (para 14). 
This is a commitment that we need to keep the Government to. No changes beyond what is necessary without primary legislation. 

Simon Ricketts, 13.7.17

Personal views, et cetera