Law Report: Beaches fall below EC standard: Commission of the European Communities v United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Case C-56/90) - European Court of Justice, 14 July 1993.

In failing to take all necessary measures to ensure that the quality of bathing water in the bathing areas of Blackpool and adjacent to Southport conformed to the limit values set in accordance with article 3 of Council Directive 76/160/EEC of 8 December 1975, the UK was in breach of its obligations under article 4 of the directive and articles 5 and 189 of the EEC Treaty.

The European Court of Justice so declared in an action brought by the Commission under article 169 of the EEC Treaty.

The directive applied to all bathing water except water intended for therapeutic purposes or water in swimming pools. 'Bathing water' was defined in article 1(2)(a) as meaning all running or still fresh waters, or parts thereof, and sea water in which bathing was not prohibited and was traditionally practiced by a large number of bathers.

Articles 2 and 3 required member states to set the values applicable to bathing water for the physical, chemical and microbiological parameters indicated in the annex thereto. Minimum standards of stringency were set out in the annex.

Under article 4(1), the quality of bathing water had to conform to the values set in accordance with article 3 within a period of 10 years following notification of the directive to the member state concerned. In the UK's case, the 10-year period expired on 31 December 1985.

The UK did not deny that the quality of bathing water in Blackpool and adjacent to Southport was still not in conformity with the directive. But it argued, inter alia, that the definition of bathing water in article 1(2)(a) of the directive was too imprecise to enable member states to identify the waters falling within its scope; and that the directive merely required members states to take all practicable steps to comply with the limit values set in accordance with article 3.

THE COURT held that article 1(2)(a) was to be interpreted in the light of the directive's underlying objectives, which included the protection of the environment and public health and the improvement of living conditions. Those objectives would not be attained if the waters of bathing resorts, though equipped with facilities such as changing huts, toilets, markers indicating bathing areas, and lifeguard supervision, could nevertheless be excluded from the directive's scope simply because the number of bathers was below a certain threshold.

Such facilities constituted evidence that the bathing area was frequented by a large number of bathers whose health had to be protected. The bathing areas of Blackpool and Southport had for a long time been bathing resorts meeting those criteria and should accordingly have been considered bathing areas within the meaning of the directive.

The directive required member states to take steps to ensure that certain results were attained within a specified period and, apart from the derogations expressly provided for in articles 4(3), 5(2) and 8, they could not rely on particular circumstances to justify a failure to fulfil the obligation. Consequently, the UK's argument that it took all practicable steps to comply with the limit values could not afford a further ground, in addition to the permitted derogations, justifying the failure to fulfil the obligation to bring the waters at issue into conformity at least with the annex to the directive.

Even assuming that absolute physical impossibility to carry out the obligations imposed by the directive might justify failure to fulfil them, the UK had not succeeded in establishing the existence of such impossibility in this case.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before