Court grants NI’s children and young people right to be heard in landmark air quality case

21 June 2023 News

The High Court in Belfast has confirmed that the voices of children and young people will be heard as part of a milestone environmental case on air quality in Northern Ireland.

On Monday (19 June 2023), the High Court confirmed that the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) can intervene in the ongoing Clean Air NI challenge.

In May, NICCY had requested permission from the High Court to share their expertise as part of the case. The statutory body, set up to protect the rights of young people, is concerned about the harmful effects of air pollution on the health of children across Northern Ireland.

At a court review, less than a week after Clean Air Day 2023, Mr Justice Adrian Colton confirmed that NICCY’s request has been approved by the Court.

The landmark Clean Air NI judicial review, taken by Friends of the Earth NI and backed by The PILS Project, attempts to hold the Department for Infrastructure to account for its 17-year long failure to identify dangerous emissions levels during MOT testing.

The case was scheduled to begin in the High Court on Monday 19 June 2023. However, the Department for Infrastructure has asked for more time to examine NICCY’s submissions. The full hearing has now been pushed back until 21 September 2023.

Laura Neal, lawyer at Friends of the Earth NI responded to the news: “In this landmark legal case Friends of the Earth, proudly supported by The PILS Project, aims to address something that is essential for every living thing on this planet – clean air, free from pollution. It is hugely significant that NICCY have been granted permission to intervene in this case.

Globally, the voices and views of children and young people have been crucial in the fight for a healthier planet and NICCY’s intervention will ensure that they are rightly heard in this case too.”

Maria McCloskey, PILS Director, reacted saying: “This decision is crucial – because it goes to the heart of public interest litigation. It is extremely important that all relevant information is before the court when it is carrying out its deliberations.

Through its third-party intervention, NICCY has a vital role to play in these proceedings by informing the court of the legal implications for children and young people of the alleged failings in this case.”

Mairead McCafferty, NICCY Chief Executive, commented: “I very much welcome our intervention in this milestone case. Our focus is on our children and young people and the potentially irreversible damage being caused to their developing lungs and respiratory systems because of the level of toxic emissions pumping out from vehicles’ engines.

It is of paramount importance that more comprehensive and urgent action be taken to protect our children and young people – faced not only with this environmental pollutant source but also with the existential threat posed by climate change overall. Article 24 of the UNCRC affords all children the right to live in a safe and healthy environment, which must be upheld.

Our children should not have to pay the price for environmental degradation but rather be able to breathe the clean air they deserve.”

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