Privy Council emphasizes standing of individuals in environmental judicial reviews in landmark airport construction case.

Citation: [2024] UKPC 3
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of John Mussington and another v Development Control Authority and others (Antigua and Barbuda) before the Privy Council addresses fundamental legal principles pertaining to standing in judicial review, the right of individuals to challenge governmental decisions on environmental grounds, and the obligations arising from both the domestic statutory framework and international environmental agreements. The judgment, hinging on the disputed construction of an airport in Barbuda, particularly accentuates the role of judiciary in safeguarding due process and the rule of law within the Environmental and Planning Law sphere.

Key Facts

The appellants, John Mussington and another, are Barbudans who sought to challenge the granting of a development permit for an airport construction in Barbuda. The Development Control Authority (DCA), along with other respondents, failed to adhere to the necessary planning process and allegedly commenced construction without the required development permit, adequate public consultation, and proper environmental impact assessments (EIAs). The Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court dismissed the appellants’ judicial review application due to a lack of standing.

The legal principles at the crux of the judgment include:

  1. Standing in Judicial Review: Defined broadly by the Eastern Caribbean Civil Procedure Rules 2000 (CPR) and reinforced by common law cases such as AXA General Insurance Ltd v HM Advocate and Walton v Scottish Ministers, standing encompasses those with “sufficient interest” in an issue. The court emphasized that standing is context-specific, influenced by the merits of the challenge and contributions to the rule of law.

  2. Rule of Law and Due Process: Addressing the established norms that development cannot commence without the necessary permits and that public consultation processes are crucial, especially in cases requiring EIAs. The failure to follow these processes can be seen as a breach of the rule of law.

  3. Environmental Law Considerations: The case discusses an individual’s right to raise environmental issues, emphasizing that a person need not be an expert, but must show genuine interest or sufficient knowledge concerning environmental concerns. This principle echoes the sentiments expressed in Walton and is consistent with obligations under the Escazú Agreement.

  4. International Environmental Obligations: The Privy Council recognized Antigua and Barbuda’s obligations under the Escazú Agreement to facilitate public participation in environmental decision-making, highlighting the global perspective on environmental governance.

Outcomes

The Privy Council identified an error in the Court of Appeal’s narrow view of standing and determined that the appellants, who are local residents with environmental and ecological concerns, possess the requisite standing to challenge the airport’s construction. The Court acknowledged the potential impact of the airport on the appellants, the apparent breaches of statutory requirements, and Mussington’s qualification and concern for the environment. Consequently, the appeal was allowed.

Conclusion

This case reiterates vital principles for the standing of individuals in environmental judicial reviews, underscoring the need for inclusivity in challenging decisions that affect the public and the environment. The judgment affirms the importance of public involvement in environmental governance and reinforces the principle that the failure to observe mandatory planning laws can result in successful legal challenges. Ultimately, the Privy Council’s decision serves to maintain the rule of law through strict adherence to environmental and planning statutes and by keeping governmental entities answerable to affected individuals and the wider community.

Related Summaries