Why we’re dragging the Treasury to court – again
As well as moonlighting here at Bright Green Scotland, I spend my day-job working for student network People & Planet campaigning on fossil fuel funding. Yesterday, we lodged legal proceedings against the Treasury, again. This is the latest stage in the fight to stop them allowing RBS to bankroll fossil fuel projects with public money.
Anyone familiar with the People & Planet campaign knows that RBS were Europe’s biggest funders of fossil fuel extraction long before the bailout. People & Planet and PLATFORM have been campaigning to get them to change their ways since 2006, and have since been joined by the World Development Movement (and for some parts of the campaign – though not the court case – Friends of the Earth Scotland and SEAD).
When the government handed over billions of pounds back in 2008, they failed to do what’s called a ‘green book assessment’ – a legally required assessment which considers if, how and when public money should be spent.
The ‘green book’ requires the government to consider the possible effects their proposed use of public money might have on the protection of human rights and the environment.
In light of their failure to comply with this very important legal requirement, we issued legal proceedings, stating that their failure to complete such an assessment was unlawful and if they had looked at what they were spending our money on, they would be likely to have decided to place some restrictions on how RBS used this public money.
Initially, they defended the claim – stating that it was not necessary for them to complete a green book assessment. However, they then backed down, and completed a retrospective ‘assessment’. But this back of an envelope calculation wasn’t a serious attempt to work out what was on the books of the world’s biggest company and how damaging their continuing financing of harmful projects will be. So we continued to press on with the case.
On 20 October, we stood across from The Treasury in the High Court. Our excellent lawyers from Leigh Day and Matrix Chambers argued our case, but unfortunately we lost. One of their arguments was that the Companies Act prevented them from intervening. The judge accepted the Treasury’s argument that their woefully inadequate assessment was sufficient.
This ruling was pretty outrageous; relying on some corners of the Companies Act, while ignoring others. And so we’re appealing. But in the meantime, something else happened. In November the Government bailed out RBS again. And this time, they did place conditions in the use of the money – conditions which RBS said would damage their profits: quite rightly, they insisted that RBS restrict bonuses and extend more credit to small businesses. Which kind of causes problems for their argument that they couldn’t have intervened in other uses of our money. Yet once more the government failed to place appropriate restrictions on the use of public money in projects and/or companies that are harmful to the environment.
Yet, again, they failed to assess the enormous impact RBS funding has on the environment with its funding of some of the most destructive projects on earth. Oops.
And so now the Government can’t pretend they are not allowed to have a say on how RBS use public money. And so now, once more, we have served them with legal papers and launched a second judicial review. I’ll keep you updated on how it, and our appeal, go.