ClientEarth, an environmental NGO, brought proceedings for an order that, with respect to sixteen zones and agglomerations (including London), the UK had failed to meet the limit values laid down in Directive 2008/50 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe. The defendant conceded that these limit values had not been met. Where a deadline cannot be met with regard to a particular zone or agglomeration, Article 22 of the Directive allows Member States to postpone that deadline by five years, provided that they notify the Commission thereof. If the Commission does not object within nine months, the conditions laid down in the Directive for postponing the deadline are deemed to be satisfied. However, the UK had not notified the postponement to the Commission. In these circumstances, the Supreme Court granted the order sought but also referred four preliminary questions to the European Court of Justice.
On the substantive questions, the European Court held that a Member State could not postpone a deadline without notifying the Commission. As to the appropriate remedy, the Court ruled that natural or legal persons directly concerned by the breach must be in a position to require the national authorities to put an end to that breach and that a national court is required to make an order to that effect or to take any other necessary measure.
Kassie Smith QC appeared for the Secretary of State.
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The case has been featured in various media, including The Lawyer, The Independent, BBC, Financial Times and The Telegraph.