Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Some foundations of modern British environmental law

The recent issue of the Journal of Environmental Law has a review by Stephen Tromans of Richard Macrory's Irresolute Clay: Shaping the Foundations of Modern Environmental Law (Hart, 2020). An excerpt:

In a series of Chapters, Macrory looks at the development of the profession of environmental law: the ‘early sparks’ of environmental law as an academic discipline; practising environmental law as a barrister; and the ‘coming of age’ of academic environmental law. Here of course, the author is on strong ground, having been at the heart of the development of environmental law as an academic discipline since its inception. He has also had some, though very limited, experience of advocacy at the environmental Bar.

Chapter 3 deals with ‘the emergence of environmental lawyers’ in the UK, covering forerunners such as Professor Jack Garner, the Lawyers’ Ecology Group founded in 1972, and the inception of the UK Environmental Law Association (UKELA) in 1986. Having been involved in that process, it is always interesting to read about it, though how interesting generally to later practitioners may be questionable. The key point made is the undoubted development of environmental law ‘as a distinct and vibrant field’—the growth of UKELA reflecting that development. Macrory concludes that ‘the notion of both environmental law and environmental lawyers seems now to be fully embedded in our legal system.’ As in other areas, the possible weakness of the analysis maybe derive from the quite narrow focus of the author’s own personal journey, which does not really provide a full account of why and how environmental law came to achieve that position. In particular, a fuller analysis might have revealed quite a complex synergy between different areas of the law and different types of lawyers.

The strength of an organisation like UKELA has always been that it has drawn together lawyers from private practice, both as barristers and solicitors, lawyers working in house with industry, increasingly—and to be welcomed—lawyers working for environmental NGOs, lawyers within central and local government and agencies, as well as academics (and as Macrory points out, also many members from non-legal professions). The teaching and research in environmental law burgeoned in the late 1980s and 1990s, with many noted academics not mentioned in Macrory’s book—for example, Brian Jones and Michael Bowman working with Professor Garner in Nottingham; the engaging David Hughes at Leicester, who wrote one of the first student texts on the topic; the late Simon Ball at Sheffield, who wrote the other, later joined as co-author by Stuart Bell; Lakshman Guruswamy at Durham; Lynda Warren at Aberystwyth; and others. However, a relatively small cadre of academic lawyers would not have sustained the subject. What was also instrumental in the development of environmental law was that it became possible for people who had studied it to go on and get a job in that field and have the opportunity of making it their career. This occurred in the early 1990s because the major solicitors’ firms, and their clients, particularly US companies, began to regard environmental law as a necessary and even desirable practice area. New legislation such as the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and new EU Directives being transposed into UK law, meant that there was a need for advice on compliance. Perhaps even more important, from a commercial perspective, was the recognition of environmental risk—particularly the risk of liability for historically contaminated land—in transactions. These included loans, with very considerable interest and concern by the mainstream banking industry in such risks. The result was rapid growth in environmental departments in established London firms and the appointment of environmental lawyers as partners to head them, in some cases being appointed from an academic background. This provided strong support for the development of environmental law and the incubation of a future community of environmental lawyers and is a strong factor in it becoming an established practice area.

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