Fish Legal Wins Historic Judgment to Prevent Water Industry Hiding its Dirty Secrets
The environmental and angling organisation, Fish Legal, has won a major victory in a groundbreaking case against Yorkshire Water Services Ltd and United Utilities Plc, which was the culmination of a six year legal campaign for greater transparency within the water and sewerage industry.
The Upper Tribunal has ruled that water companies in England & Wales are ‘public authorities’ for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations (2004) and so are under a legal duty to disclose environmental information they hold to the public.
The implications of this test case, which has been fought over the past 6 years, will be felt industry-wide. It could also affect companies operating in other privatised industries which have a similar role managing resources and services of public interest, such as the oil, gas, electricity providers and the Royal Mail.
Fish Legal often wants to know about sewage pollution and over-abstraction that damages rivers and coastal waters to help it fight legal cases on behalf of its member clubs and fishery owners. This judgment means it now has a right to get this information directly from the water companies themselves. In the past, several companies refused to provide any information when asked, whilst others expressly refused to disclose information in line with this law. The Judges in this case ruled they were wrong to do so.
This new right will benefit other environmental and campaigning groups affected by sewage pollution such as Surfers Against Sewage, or those with a wider environment remit, such as WWF, RSPB and river trusts. Any concerned individual or organisation now has a right to the environmental information held by the water and sewerage companies.
The water and sewerage industry causes significant damage to the environment every year. This is partly due to the very nature of what it does in treating sewage and abstracting water, but in many cases is due to mismanagement and underreporting of incidents. The industry will now have to open up what it does to much greater public scrutiny.
William Rundle, Head Solicitor at Fish Legal, said:
“We are delighted with this result, which has at long last asserted the rights of our angling members, and the wider public, to get information from these companies when they cause pollution or other damage. Being able to obtain environmental information directly about activities that affect the environment will make it much easier to deal with complex issues affecting fisheries. We sincerely hope that with the industry’s greater accountability will come higher environmental performance.”
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal said:
“This is a huge victory for the environment and for fish and fishing. Our legal team at Fish Legal has done a brilliant job fighting this case over the past 6 years, taking on some of the largest companies in the country and winning. This has only been possible because of the support of members of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, whose subscriptions enable us to fight these battles for the benefit of all anglers and the water environment. Once again, we have demonstrated that when anglers unite, we can be a very powerful force for good.”
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