The High Court has recognised a personal constitutional right to an environment that is consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens at large.
The challenge was taken by multiple individuals and Friends of the Irish Environment, against a decision to grant the Dublin Airport Authority permission to construct a third runway at Dublin Airport, extending the planning permission granted in 2007 by five years. In their arguments, the Friends of the Irish Environment contended that the right to an environment consistent with human dignity and well-being was an implied personal right in the Constitution.
While the applicants were unsuccessful in their claims that a requirement existed in Irish law for public participation in the extension of a planning permission the case is of significant Constitutional importance.
In a detailed judgement, Mr Justice Barrett clearly enunciated the role of the judiciary in recognising personal constitutional rights. Mr Justice Barrett stated that Constitutional law was of a higher order which both empowers and constrains all of the great organs of our tripartite government. Furthermore, while the judiciary are not elected in the traditional sense, it is an institution founded under the Constitution and has an important role of providing an efficient system of checks and balances within and across the system of public government established by the Constitution. In reviewing earlier decisions of the Supreme Court, Mr Justice Barrett found that Friends of the Irish Environment did have locus standi and would allow for an expansive approach to locus standi where the public interest warrants it as in this case. It was stated that the case raised profound constitutional issues that affect the entire population.
Mr Justice Barrett found that a right to an environment that is consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens at large is an essential condition for the fulfilment of all human rights. It is an indispensable existential right that is enjoyed universally, yet which is vested personally as a right that presents and can be seen always to have presented, and to enjoy protection, under Art. 40.3.1̊ of the Constitution. It is not so utopian a right that it can never be enforced. Once concretised into specific duties and obligations, its enforcement is entirely practicable. He continued that the right to an environment is consistent with the human dignity and well-being is not required to be “described in detail before that right [is] recognised to exist.” In reaching this decision, while the Court acknowledged there would be a need for definition and demarcation of the right, one first must recognise there is a personal Constitutional right to an environment that is consistent with the human dignity and well-being of citizens at large upon which those duties and responsibilities can be construed.
The Court noted the surprising lack of attention in the parties’ submissions on the application of the European Convention of Human rights to the issues presented in the case. It was argued by the Applicant that s.42 of the PADA is incompatible with Ireland’s obligations under Article 6 (‘Right to fair trial’), Article 8 (‘Right to respect for private and family life’) and Article 12 (Right to marry’) and/or Article 1 of Protocol No.1 (‘Protection of property’) to the Convention. The Court found on balance, the public participatory process which preceded the grant of the new runway permission satisfied the State’s obligations under the abovementioned Convention provisions. Further in so far as there was no express statutory mechanism permitting further public participation, any such restriction on subsequent public participation is justified by, and proportionate to, the public interest in, inter alia, administering a functioning and efficient system of planning in Ireland.
To read the judgement click here.
To read a report on the judgement click here.