Heathrow’s 3rd Runway – Judicial Review

Judges Lord Justice Hickinbottom and Mr Justice Holgate have rejected outright the Judicial Review brought by local councils, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. They approved the government’s decision to build a third runway at Heathrow. [Full judgment]

A Disappointing Summary

Reading out the judgment, Lord Justice Hickinbottom barely looked up at the people in the crowded courtroom. He made no effort whatsoever to explain in plain language the nature or reason for the judgment he delivered.

He did concede “We understand that these claims involve underlying issues upon which the parties – and, indeed, many members of the public – hold strong and sincere views.”

Rather patronising to those who actually care about climate change and think we should do something about it.

Profound Implications

The judgment was at pains to point out that it was only concerned with the legality of the government’s National Policy Statement. It was not concerned with its content or merit. But if the judgment is sound (and this is not clear because it is being appealed) the implications are profound.

One upshot of the judgment is that the Paris Agreement, signed by the UK government, can be ignored when it comes to expanding Heathrow.

The government has not actually implemented the Paris agreement, because it has not amended its Climate Act or passed any other binding legislation. So ultimately the Paris Agreement can be disregarded.

So Government has a green light to act in bad faith!

Another upshot is giving government a green light to mislead MPs and the public. The National Policy Statement (NPS) was materially misleading. For example it claimed it “.. concludes both that expansion via a Northwest Runway at Heathrow Airport (as its preferred scheme) can be delivered within the UK’s carbon obligations ..

This is misleading because the evidence, produced by the government itself, shows that a third runway is not consistent with climate obligations.

False Claims

The NPS also makes claims about economic benefits of a third runway, but conveniently ignores its own evidence which shows negligible or possibly even negative economic benefit.

What the judges are saying is, in effect, that it is okay for the Government to lie and mislead. And this from a court – of all places!

The judges could reasonably argue that they were required only to consider the legality of the government’s policy, not the merits. This may be so, but judges have complete freedom, which they often use, to make general comments on a case and its issues. They are entitled to say that, irrespective of what they were forced to conclude for reasons of law, the law is mistaken or irrational or immoral.

The fact that the judges made no such comment speaks volumes.

After all, why rock the boat by suggesting we should actually take climate change seriously instead of just paying lip service? Why not hide behind legal niceties instead of saying what needs to said? ‘An easy life’ would be one of the more charitable answers.


Judges Hickinbottom and Holgate have meekly supported the government by saying that they can ignore the latest evidence and even its own undertakings on climate change. So we must now hold them as well as the government to account.

But this attitude will backfire. If people see judges just supporting the ‘establishment’ , it can only lead to even less trust in government, big business, the judiciary and ultimately democracy itself.

Article by Nic Ferriday


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