Legal action begins against climate lawyer in Heathrow expansion row

Barrister who could face jail says he would have been ‘complicit in a cover-up’ had he not leaked verdict

Jane Dalton
Thursday 18 February 2021 21:51
<p>Campaigners say the government failed to note new environmental commitments</p>

Campaigners say the government failed to note new environmental commitments

Court proceedings have been launched against a climate charity lawyer for leaking a decision to expand Heathrow Airport.

Tim Crosland, director of Plan B, a group that uses the law to challenge ministers over the climate crisis, faces up to two years in prison if he is convicted.

In December, shortly before the Supreme Court’s judgment was delivered giving the go-ahead to a third runway, Mr Crosland deliberately broke an embargo on the decision, making it public.

He was referred to the attorney general for contempt of court, and now the solicitor general Michael Ellis has launched proceedings that could lead to his being sent to prison.

Mr Crosland said he had no choice but to protest against “the deep immorality of the court’s ruling” when he broke the embargo.

The Court of Appeal had initially blocked any Heathrow expansion, ruling that the government had acted unlawfully in failing to take into account the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperature rises to no more than 2C by limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the agreement, carbon dioxide emissions from aviation need to be zero by 2050.

But the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal decision.

The government says the Supreme Court’s draft judgement was circulated to those involved on a confidential basis, and it was made clear that breaching the embargo might be treated as a contempt of court.

Mr Crosland, a barrister, said he broke the court’s embargo as “an act of civil disobedience”.

In an article forThe Independent, he wrote that had he not revealed the Heathrow decision early, he believed he would have been complicit in a “cover-up”.

He claimed the Supreme Court ruling “concealed” that when the government approved Heathrow’s expansion, it relied on a “dangerous and discredited” climate target.

But Mr Ellis said: “After careful consideration, I have concluded that in order that the rule of law be upheld, contempt of court proceedings should be brought against Tim Crosland.

“Irrespective of any personal views on any issue, there is no excuse for knowingly undermining court processes and proceedings.”

Mr Crosland has also accused the government of hypocrisy in approving Heathrow expansion while hosting climate talks, Cop26, later this year, when it will urge other countries to limit their carbon output.

He said: “The government is doing three things. It’s claiming to be a climate leader ahead of Cop26.

“It’s supervising the opening of a new coal mine, continuing to spend billions of taxpayer money on fossil-fuel developments overseas and progressing carbon-intensive projects such as investment in the roads, expansion of Heathrow and HS2; meanwhile it’s suggesting that those who call out this treasonous hypocrisy and stand up for the future of our young people, our country and vulnerable communities everywhere, should be treated as organised criminals.”

The government and supporters of Heathrow expansion say it would create thousands of new jobs.

“It’s the government’s primary responsibility to safeguard the lives of its citizens from threats too complex for us to address as individuals,” Mr Crosland said.

Supreme Court judges are due to consider the contempt of court case.

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