The European Court of Human Rights has recently delivered judgment confirming that the construction of liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) terminals in Milford Haven, South Wales did not breach the human rights of local residents - Hardy and Maile v the United Kingdom (application no. 31965/97).
The matter before the Strasburg Court concerned an application by two local residents, Alison Hardy and Rodney Maile (“the applicants”), in respect of the construction and operation of the two liquefied natural gas (“LNG”) terminals on sites at Milford Haven harbour. Consents for the importation of LNG had been obtained in 2003 and the applicants had challenged the operation of the terminals unsuccessfully in the domestic courts, by means of an unsuccessful judicial review application which was then appealed to the Court of Appeal (permission to appeal to the House of Lords was refused). Eversheds represented Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, one of the Defendants, in those proceedings.
The applicants complained under Articles 2 (right to life) and Article 8 (right to protection of private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights about the development of the two sites. Their claim was based on the propositions that inadequate risk assessments were required to be carried out by the authorities in respect of the potential escape of LNG and furthermore that there was a lack of adequate information provided to them about the risks posed by the terminals. The Court considered Article 8 alone was relevant to the claim. It concluded that the potential risks posed by the LNG terminals were such as to establish a sufficiently close link with the applicants' private lives and homes for the purposes of Article 8 and agreed that Article 8 was engaged.
Assessment of risks related to the LNG operations
The Court concluded that there had been no violation of Article 8 in respect of the adequacy of the assessment of risks related to the LNG.
The Court found that there had been a coherent and comprehensive legislative and regulatory framework governing the activities in question and that extensive reports and studies had been carried out in respect of the proposed LNG terminals. Furthermore it was felt that the national authorities had struck an appropriate balance between the different competing interests and had therefore fulfilled the British Government's obligation to secure the applicants' right to respect for their private lives and homes.
Disclosure of information
The Court dismissed the argument that sufficient information about the perceived risks had not been given, noting that a great deal of information had been voluntarily provided to the public by the relevant authorities and the developers of the projects.
The UK Government had argued that the applicants had not exhausted all local remedies as they had not exhausted the possibilities of appeal via the Information Commissioner to the Information Tribunal to the Court of Appeal. Furthermore it was argued on behalf of the UK government that Article 8 did not provide a right to see all studies which had been used in the assessment process as it should be sufficient that the public was informed of the conclusions of its studies and assessments coupled with information provided in the Environmental statements that accompanied the planning and hazardous substances applications. The Court agreed, finding that the applicants had failed to demonstrate that any substantive documents had not been disclosed to them.
The court found no breach of human rights under Article 8 regarding the risk assessment and also dismissed the further claim that human rights were breached by government failure to disclose full information about the plans.
What happens next? Under ECHR procedure, the applicants have three months in which to decide whether to appeal the judgment. If an appeal is filed, a panel of five judges will consider whether the case raises a serious issue of interpretation or application, or of general importance. If further examination is deemed appropriate, the Grand Chamber will hear the case and deliver a final judgment. If however no appeal is filed, or the referral request is refused, the Chamber judgment becomes final.