A barrister broke the embargo on today’s Supreme Court ruling on the Heathrow airport expansion case “as an act of civil disobedience”.
He is being referred to the Attorney General for possible prosecution for contempt of court.
Tim Crosland, director of Plan B – a charity that supports strategic legal action against climate change – said he was “ready to face the consequences” of his action.
Plan B brought the challenge along with Friends of the Earth and, in a statement issued last night, he said: “I have no choice but to protest the deep immorality of the court’s ruling.”
A lawyer for 25 years and a former legal adviser to government agencies – he was a deputy director at the Serious Organised Crime Agency – Mr Crosland said: “I have deep respect for the rule of law and the vital role of the judicial system in holding power to account. That is why it is a duty to protest a decision that so gravely betrays that purpose.
“I take this act of protest for the sake of my two children and in memory of all those who have lost their lives on the frontline of the climate crisis, in the UK and around the world.”
In a statement, the Supreme Court said the decision about whether Mr Crosland should be prosecuted for contempt was for the Attorney General, rather than the court, to make.
“We will also make a complaint about Mr Crosland’s conduct to the Bar Standards Board, so that it can consider whether disciplinary action should be taken.”
The Supreme Court allowed Heathrow Airport’s appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision that the airports national policy statement, made by then transport secretary Chris Grayling in 2018, was unlawful because it failed to take into account the Paris agreement on climate change. The statement favoured the development of the third runway at Heathrow.
The Supreme Court rejected Plan B’s argument that the reasons in the ANPS needed to refer to the Paris agreement targets, ruling that the formal ratification of the Paris agreement did not make it government policy for the purposes of section 5(8) of the Planning Act 2008.
This requires the statement to include an explanation of how it takes account of government policy relating to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.
Three other grounds of challenge also failed.
Mr Crosland said that while Boris Johnson informed Parliament that the government would accept the Court of Appeal and abide by the Paris agreement, “Heathrow Airport Limited, the company which plans to profit from expansion launched an appeal, supported by an army of lawyers”.
He said that while Mr Grayling had assessed climate impacts of Heathrow expansion against the historic temperature limit of 2˚C warming, had he used the 1.5˚C measure in the Paris agreement, he would not have approved the expansion.
“The consequences for humanity of exceeding the 1.5˚C temperature limit are dire, with the younger generation and the Global South on the frontline,” Mr Crosland said.
“The pandemic has reminded us of our subjection to natural laws. The Paris temperature limit is all that divides us from a grim future of crisis upon crisis. The government was right to accept the Court of Appeal’s verdict. The Supreme Court’s judgment, which has legitimised Mr Grayling’s use of the deadly 2˚C threshold, has betrayed us all.”
We have approached the Supreme Court for comment.