The Angling Trust’s legal arm Fish Legal has won an important victory in its campaign to make England and Wales’ biggest polluters come clean about what they put into our rivers, lakes and seas, as well as what they pump out.
Following a 3 year battle and concerted attempts by water companies to prevent an appeal, Fish Legal has finally managed to get the case referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The Judge at the Upper Tribunal (UT) in London has prepared some legal questions to ask the CJEU to help decide whether water companies are “public authorities” under European legislation, and therefore subject to public scrutiny.
Fish Legal acting on its own behalf and as the legal wing of the Angling Trust with its 350,000-strong membership of angling clubs and individuals, has been battling to challenge a series of decisions, firstly by the Information Commissioner, and then the Upper Tribunal in an earlier case which held that water companies are not public authorities and therefore not covered by European Legislation and UK law – which meant their filing cabinets could remain shut.
As long ago as 2009, Fish Legal asked water companies for information on sewage discharges and clean-up operations at the thousands of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in England and Wales. Two companies – United Utilities and Yorkshire Water – said they were not “public authorities” and therefore did not need to provide the information by law. United Utilities took about 2 years to get the complete information to Fish Legal, whose lawyers believe the information should be available by right and not just at the whim of the water companies.
The Judge’s decision to refer the case to the European courts is exactly what Fish Legal wanted and is the next step in getting the companies to open up to inspection by anyone who wants to know what their local company is doing to their watercourses or beaches.
The Judge will ask the Court of Justice of the European Union to answer questions which help to understand what a “public authority” is in European legislation and whether bodies like water companies are included.
Justin Neal, Head Solicitor for Fish Legal said: “it has taken 3 years to get to this position and we may have to wait another two years for the European Courts to provide answers to these questions. Nevertheless, we hope that common sense will prevail and that they will conclude that the privatisation of the water industry didn’t take information out of the hands of the general public.”
Leading barrister, David Wolfe, who provided the legal advice and representation for FL, commented, “I have been pleased to assist Fish Legal in getting the case the CJEU. I am optimistic that the CJEU will give an answer which will help everyone wanting information from water companies and other privatised utilities.”
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal said: “Water Companies should not be able to hide what they are getting up to. Water quality and quantity affect us all, and our legal team are committed to doing all they can to get access to this vital information not just for anglers, but for everyone who cares about the state of our rivers and coasts. This case could take five years for us to win, but it will be of benefit to generations of anglers and environmental campaigners.”