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Case update 30 June 2023

We’re in court to tackle sewage dumping

Good Law Project is backing a High Court legal challenge to toughen Government action on sewage discharges. Success could open up new ways to protect our rivers and seas.

Swimmers are getting sick, natural habitats are under attack and coastal communities are sinking under a tidal wave of sewage. Water companies discharged raw sewage into our rivers and coastal waters through 14,500 storm overflows more than 300,000 times last year.

Good Law Project is in the High Court on 5 and 6 July to support the Marine Conservation Society, Richard Haward’s Oysters and the surfer and activist Hugo Tagholm as they challenge the Government’s flimsy strategy to tackle the issue of raw sewage being discharged through storm overflows.

Last August, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published the Storm Overflows Reduction Plan, but it doesn’t go close to far enough and gives polluting water companies until 2050 to put an end to their industrial-scale sewage dumping.

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We think that allowing this environmental vandalism to continue for decades to come is not just unconscionable but unlawful.

The claimants will argue in the High Court that the Government must introduce tougher targets and bring forward the deadlines for water companies to clean up their act. One of the grounds attempts to revive the Public Trust Doctrine. This ancient English legal principle says that the state has a duty to safeguard vital natural resources and hold them in trust for the benefit of both current and future generations.

Winning this case could set a landmark precedent, which would allow others to use the Public Trust Doctrine more widely – not just for storm overflows but far beyond – to compel those in power to take positive steps to protect the natural environment.

The pressure of this challenge has already brought significant success before we have even reached the courtroom. Earlier this month, DEFRA launched a consultation on expanding the plan for storm overflows to include coastal overflows in response to one of the arguments in our case

But to continue to protect our rivers and seas for generations to come, we need your help. If you can support our legal challenge in any way, big or small, you can do so here.