A law firm has said it has helped obtain the “largest ever sum” recovered by a Human Rights Act claim, after the government settled longstanding litigation by solar energy companies at just under £60m.
International firm Asserson said the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) confirmed in response to a freedom of information request that it had made the payment earlier this year.
The litigation was triggered by a government decision to bring forward the date of cuts to ‘feed-in tariff’ subsidies to small-scale solar energy generators from April 2012 to December 2011, a date “before the end of the consultation on the proposal” itself and before the change was approved by parliament.
Asserson, which is based in Tel Aviv and London, said the change had “disastrous consequences for the UK solar industry, with many companies becoming insolvent and others losing millions of pounds.”
Trevor Asserson, senior partner of Asserson, commented: “This claim was triggered by an unlawful government decision to cut subsidies to the solar energy industry earlier than the government’s own published timetable.
“The outcome was a victory for the business sector and for human rights. This is by a significant margin the largest sum ever recovered on the basis of a Human Rights Act claim in the UK.”
The law firm said it represented 18 claimants in the early stages of the litigation, with a further two claimants represented by other solicitors.
“During the course of the case a number of smaller claimants dropped out of the claim, some due to their becoming insolvent. Asserson acted for five claimants who continued to the trial stage.”
Asserson said the litigation began in the autumn of 2011 with a judicial review and Human Rights Act claim against the Department for Energy and Climate Change for losses stemming from the earlier than expected cut in subsidies.
“The claim was brought under the Human Rights Act 1998, alleging that DECC’s actions had breached the claimants’ right to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions.”
The judicial review succeeded in the High Court and Court of Appeal, with the Supreme Court refusing the government permission to appeal further in March 2012.
The law firm said the High Court and Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Human Rights claim in 2014 and 2015 on preliminary issues, finding that the government had acted unlawfully and unjustifiably interfered with the claimants’ rights to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions, in this case their contracts with third parties.
Asserson said it had not commented on the amount of money paid to the claimants, because the government had insisted that the settlement terms were confidential.
“However, in light of the government’s freedom of information response, the settlement sum is now public knowledge.
“The precedent set by this case gives businesses real protection in the event that government unlawfully interferes with their activities.”