Seahorse Trust granted permission to bring judicial review of decision to allow drilling for oil in Poole bay

Date: 
Sunday, August 11, 2019
Source: 
A-LAW

The Seahorse Trust has been granted permission by a High Court Judge to proceed to a full hearing on the merits of its application for judicial review. The group has asked the court to review the lawfulness of a decision by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy to allow Corallian Energy to extend a licence to drill for oil in Poole Bay, Dorset, reportedly only six km from Studland Bay, an important nature reserve.

The decision is challenged on grounds that the decisions to authorise Corallian Energy to drill for oil in Poole Bay, Dorset and to extend drilling beyond the time allowed for its permit, were made without undertaking a lawful environmental impact assessment. The case synopsis in the Crowdfunding appeal by the Seahorse Trust states:

‘When the Secretary of State gave notice of the original proposal for drilling in January 2018, the Seahorse Trust and many others objected on the grounds of the impact of the drilling on Short Snouted Seahorses and Spiny Seahorses that over winter in the area of the proposed oil platform and as such are both susceptible to disturbance.

The Secretary of State then asked Corallian to provide further environmental information on (amongst other things) the impact of the drilling on seahorses, but failed to give notice of this further information to the public, including to the Seahorse Trust, so they were unable to comment.

The Secretary of State took the decision to allow the drilling but failed to notify objectors that this decision had been taken (and had to be challenged within 6 weeks) other than in an obscure publication called the London Gazette.’

The Seahorse Trust claim that the since the drilling, 4 dolphins, 1 seal and 10 seahorses have washed up dead. The Dorset Wildlife Trust has also reported an ‘unusually high’ number of dead seahorses washed up on the county’s beaches.

Judicial review provides is a way for the court’s to ensure that public bodies and those exercising public powers do so lawfully. The court has a role in ‘supervising’ the exercise of public power, although judges cannot substitute their own views for those of the person who made the original decision.

The first stage in proceedings (which must be brought within strict time limits) is the permission hearing. The test is whether the claimant has an arguable case and is designed to weed out wholly unmeritorious cases. This is the stage that has been passed in this action. The claim will now proceed to a substantive hearing on the merits.

Individuals and groups seeking judicial review are often worried that the costs may be prohibitive. It is therefore interesting to know that The Seahorse Trust has used crowd funding through ‘Crowd Justice’ (which specialises in crowd funding for legal cases) to raise the necessary funds to bring this action.