Court of Appeal Determines Climate Change Act's Section 13 Duty Not Applicable to Government's Food Strategy

Citation: [2023] EWCA Civ 1549
Judgment on

Introduction

In the matter of Global Feedback Limited, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs & Anor, the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) was tasked with interpreting the execution of duties under specific sections of the Climate Change Act 2008. The case revolves around whether the duty to prepare proposals and policies pursuant to section 13 of the Climate Change Act applied to the Government’s Food Strategy and the subsequent legal implications tied to its preparation and adoption.

Key Facts

Global Feedback Limited sought judicial review of the decision to adopt the Food Strategy by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (SSEFRA), claiming that it contravened the requirements of section 13 of the Climate Change Act. After permission to apply for judicial review was refused at the lower instance, it was eventually granted on appeal and addressed in a refined form. The main contention was whether SSEFRA had failed to comply with his section 13 duty and if there was an obligation to follow the advice of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), giving it significant weight and providing cogent reasons when deviating from it.

The Court of Appeal was to resolve:

  1. If the duty under section 13 was engaged while developing and adopting the Food Strategy.
  2. Whether or not there was a requirement to significantly consider the CCC’s advice when adopting the Food Strategy.

Three key legal principles dominated this case:

  • The singular nature of the Secretary of State’s role as stipulated in the Climate Change Act and the Interpretation Act 1978. Essentially, the office of any Secretary of State has a collective responsibility for upholding the duties under the legislation.

  • The ‘continuing duty’ principle under section 13 of the Climate Change Act, which requires the Secretary of State responsible for environmental policies to keep preparing policies and proposals that enable meeting carbon budgets.

  • The ‘significant weight and cogent reasons’ principle typically applied to expert advice in legal precedents, which mandates decision-makers to give substantial consideration to input from bodies armed with subject matter expertise unless there are strong reasons to justify the departure.

Outcomes

The Court of Appeal dismissed Global Feedback’s claim on the following grounds:

  1. Non-application of Section 13: It was held that the duty under section 13 of the Climate Change Act did not apply to the Food Strategy. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (SSESNZ) was determined to carry the responsibility to prepare proposals and policies as SSEFRA’s preparation of the Food Strategy did not engage that duty. This approach respected the indivisible nature of the Secretary of State’s office and acknowledged that it is SSESNZ who must report to Parliament under section 14. The court rejected the notion that SSEFRA had a fragmentary or part-share duty under section 13 and also clarified that the Food Strategy was not a continuation or a particularization of unquantified strategies mentioned in the Net Zero Strategy.

  2. No requirement to adhere to the CCC’s advice: There was no statutory requirement for SSESNZ or SSEFRA to accord significant weight to the advice of the CCC. Contrary to the stipulations of various precedent cases, no such duty was expressly embedded within the Climate Change Act for the context of section 13. The CCC may provide advice, but the Secretary of State is not obliged to follow or accord it preeminent consideration.

Conclusion

The Court of Appeal’s decision in this case clarifies the discrete duties of Secretaries of State under the Climate Change Act, emphasizing that the Food Strategy alone does not envoke the duty under Section 13 and consolidating the position that while specialist advice should be taken into consideration, it does not necessarily impose a legal obligation to adhere to such advice.

This case underlines the courts’ reluctance to expand statutory duties beyond their explicit terms and the importance of statutory interpretation aligning with legislative intent. The ruling reinforces the need for legislative clarity in stipulating duties of government departments, specifically in multidimensional policy areas like climate change.

In sum, the judgment clarifies the purview of Section 13 as a narrowly interpreted duty that falls solely upon the Secretary of State charged with environmental obligations and negates the omnipresence of the ‘significant weight and cogent reasons’ principle.

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