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Environment lawyer fined over Heathrow ruling leak

By May 17, 2021July 13th, 2021Commercial, Environment, Government

Tim Crosland, an environmental lawyer, has been fined £5,000 for criminal contempt of court after making a supreme court ruling public before it was formally announced. 

The ruling in question regarded the planned third runway at Heathrow airport, the source of controversy particularly from environmental groups. The supreme court ruled that the runway was legal, so Crosland’s leak sparked immediate outrage from those concerned with the expansion and its environmental impact. 

Crosland was one of the many parties that brought the legal case against the owners of the airport and was therefore privy to knowledge of the ruling before it was made public. He tweeted about the verdict the day before it was due to be released. 

While the judges said that there was “no such thing as a justifiable contempt of court”, Crosland insisted that his actions were a reasonable measure to combat the climate crisis. 

The supreme court ruling overturns a previous judgement by the court of appeal that the expansion was illegal as it was not in line with the UK’s commitments to the 2015 Paris climate accord. Crosland accused the government of knowingly ignoring and concealing knowledge of the environmental impact of the third runway and in court said that the former transport secretary knew full well that the plans were “inconsistent” with the climate agreement. 

The decision in February 2020 from the court of appeal was seen as incredibly significant as it was the first in the world to be based on the commitments set out in the Paris climate agreement; it also spawned more related cases against other infrastructure plans.

The supreme court’s overturning of the Heathrow decision has been met with vehement protest from activists, scientists, lawyers, and campaigners.

According to judges in the case, Crosland was unrepentant of his actions but his move was ultimately futile as the announcement was made 24 hours later. While the fine may seem steep, judges could have legally jailed him for up to two years for the offence. Fines in contempt cases such as these are theoretically limitless, but the decision for a £5,000 penalty was settled on to protect the integrity of the judiciary.

Learn more about criminal law and other matters related to the subject.

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