Parties plea: don’t impose crippling costs on charity

Wind farm cropped

​Charity took action in public interest, it says, so it should not face legal costs

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23rd August 2016 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Two political parties and SNP MSPs have called on the Scottish Government and SSE, asking them not to pursue massive costs against the John Muir Trust over the Stronelairg judicial review.

The Trust initially won a review against the giant wind farm in the heart of Monadliath Mountains, but the decision was later overturned by appeal judges.

Highland MSP John Finnie, on behalf of the Scottish Green Party parliamentary group and Maurice Golden, environment spokesperson for the Scottish Conservative Party, have separately written to energy minister Paul Wheelhouse and to SSE chief executive Alistair Phillips-Davies.

They make the point that, in the public interest, both should waive their right to pursue legal costs against the trust.

The trust took the action in the public interest as there had been no proper public scrutiny of the environmental impact

Individual SNP MSPs are also understood to have raised the same point with the minister.

Under the Aarhus Convention, individual citizens and non-governmental organisations acting in the public interest should have access to fair, equitable, and timely legal review procedures that are not “prohibitively expensive”.

The Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Conservatives, together with the other individual MSPs, note that John Muir Trust took the Stronelairg action in the public interest and therefore should not now be facing punitive legal bills incurred by the government and SSE.

Welcoming the moves, Helen McDade, head of policy for the trust, said: “We would like to thank the Scottish Greens, Scottish Conservatives and those individual MSPs for taking this principled stand in defence of environmental justice. The trust took the action over Stronelairg in the public interest because there had been no opportunity for proper public scrutiny of the environmental impact of the proposal.

“Although we are disappointed that the final decision went against us, the legal action did throw the spotlight onto some of the flaws in the planning system.

“These have implications for communities across Scotland who may in the future choose to take a stand against activities that might raise environmental concerns – whether that be energy infrastructure, fracking, super-quarries or road building. 

“We understand that the stance of the Green and Conservative parties is also taken by individual MSPs right across the political spectrum. The Scottish Government and SSE would, we believe, be on the side of public opinion if they assume their own legal costs for the Stronelairg case.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scottish ministers are carefully considering their position following the Court of Session ruling. 

“Their decision will be announced in due course. The Scottish Government has a responsibility to consider the interests of taxpayers, in relation to costs incurred in legal actions.”

SSE has been asked for comment.