04:03, February 04 294 0 theguardian.com

2019-02-04 04:03:08
High court challenge to third Heathrow runway could be broadcast live

A high court challenge to the government’s controversial plan for a third runway at Heathrow could be opened up to a mass audience through live-streaming for the first time if judges accept a legal argument.

Although the supreme court has transmitted its hearings since 2009, photography and recording of court proceedings elsewhere are strictly controlled by the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which only permits cases in the court of appeal to be broadcast.

Tim Crosland, a barrister who is the director of the anti-climate change charity Plan B, will tell a preliminary hearing on 5 February that live-streaming from the high court would not involve recording or creating a permanent record and was therefore permissible under the legislation.

The case involving environmental groups, local authorities and the Department of Transport is due to be heard in the Royal Courts of Justice in central London over 10 days in March. Only those who attend court would normally be able to hear the arguments. Hearings in the high court have never previously been broadcast.

Expansion of Heathrow by adding a third runway has been in dispute for almost two decades, with the government giving the plan the go ahead in June 2018. Ministers have argued a new runway is needed to enable the economy to prosper, but the plan has many opponents.

The judicial review due to begin on 11 March rolls up a series of legal challenges. Plan B and Friends of the Earth will argue that the increased carbon emissions from the planes are incompatible with the UK’s responsibilities to tackle climate change.

Local councils are also involved in the case, with their concerns including increased noise and air pollution for local residents. If built, the runway is expected to cost its developers £14bn and could be completed by 2026. However, taxpayers may have to fund major upgrades to the roads around the airport.

Two judges, Lord Justice Hickinbottom and Mr Justice Holgate, have agreed to hear the preliminary Plan B application on Tuesday. None of the parties in the case have objected to live-streaming and the Department of Transport is said to be neutral on the issue. The hearing is unlikely to raise privacy issues.

Crosland said the more people who listen to the detail of the arguments, the more engaged they will become in environmental concerns. He cited the example of the Urgenda trial in the Netherlands which, he believes, made a significant difference to media and public understanding of climate change.

Fewer than 50 people are likely to be able to cram into the courtroom if access is restricted to those who make their way to the Royal Courts of Justice. On occasions, for popular hearings, a video-screen has been set up for live-streaming proceedings in a neighbouring, overspill courtroom.

“There’s nothing in law about live-streaming,” Crosland said before the hearing. “The act only bans photography and recording. Friends of the Earth are supporting us in this application.

“No one wants to be in a position to say the public can’t watch because this is an important case. The [high court judge] has said that this case could have major implications.”

Crosland will also point to the occasional arrangements for high court proceedings to be live-streamed to a neighbouring court when there is heavy demand by the media and public for access to a high-profile hearing.

If the high court has the legal powers to do that, Crosland will argue, live-streaming proceedings online is only a difference in scale rather than in principle. If the high court bans web live-streaming, then it should also stop localised courtroom to courtroom live-streaming.

If his application succeeds, it would be the first time that high court proceedings have been live-streamed. The Ministry of Justice, in consultation with the judiciary, has been very gradually expanding the use of live broadcasts from the courts.