Many ministers may escape censure over air pollution under brexit plans, which will remove Britons rights to sue the government for breaking the law.
Legislation is being drawn up to come into force after Brexit banning individuals and companies from bringing compensation claims against Whitehall.
Many areas of the law including workers rights, the environment and business regulation will no longer be subject to financial redress through the courts.
A European court ruling in 1991 has allowed for citizens to sue member states for damages if they believed there had been an infringement on their rights due to a country’s failure to implement EU law.
Experts have claimed that the new proposal in the EU repeal bill, will invalidate claims against the government for their failure to enforce EU air pollution standards for the past 7 years.
Currently, at least one group is known to be preparing a legal case on the issue and it is believed many more are eligible to sue as there are children and adults living in areas with high nitrogen dioxide pollution (NO2 ). The high levels are primarily thought to be from diesel traffic.
Government figures show that NO2 pollution has been linked to over 23,500 premature deaths and is also a cause for the rising cases of asthma among children. As of 2010, London and several other cities in the UK fail to meet the EU standards on NO2 levels.
The government is potentially liable to pay compensation to those who have been affected by their failure to implement the directive under the Francovich ruling.
The ruling states that any member state can be sued if individuals or businesses have been damaged as a result of a “sufficiently serious” failure of a country to implement the EU law.
This law has been used to successfully sue the British government a number of times however the clause which is set to be included in the repeal bill, removing any government accountability will be debated next month. The clause is set to include the statement: “There is no right in domestic law on or after exit day to damages in accordance with the rule in Francovich.”
Civil liberty groups have pointed out that the Government repeal bill may also affect other areas of law.
Director of Liberty, Martha Spurrier said “This chilling clause, buried deep in the bill’s small print, would quietly take away one of the British people’s most vital tools for defending their rights.” further commenting that “putting the government above the law renders our legal protections meaningless. It exposes a clear agenda to water down our rights after Brexit.”
A spokesperson for the government has said “The right to Francovich damages is linked to EU membership. The government therefore considers that this will no longer be relevant after we leave. After exit, under UK law it will still be possible for individuals to receive damages or compensation for any losses caused by breach of the law.”
Despite the claim that individuals would still be able to sue government post Brexit, the government have failed to provide evidence on how the new system would work.
Former Labour frontbencher and Remain campaigner, Chris Leslie has vowed to challenge the government in parliament for going back on its pledge not to take away the rights of citizens’.
“Brexit is undoubtedly going to lead to a massive shake up of Environmental law and its application and enforcement in the UK after 29 March 2019. The clause in the Bill relating to the Francovich principle is just one illustration of this. Both individuals and businesses will need to stay vigilant to ensure that they are aware of their rights and obligations in the months and years leading up to and more importantly, following our exit. I am confident that legal duties and obligations for private individuals and businesses will continue after Brexit and that failure to comply will still give rise to liability; what we do not know is the detail.”