The UK Government racked up legal bills of £370,000 defending two challenges to the country’s national air quality plans for nitrogen dioxide. The Guardian revealed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), had incurred the expenditure over the past two years, following cases brought over the Air Pollution Action Plan 2015.

ClientEarth, a non-profit environmental law organisation, took two main cases against DEFRA over the UK’s plans to cut down on nitrogen dioxide pollution. The legal bills came from DEFRA’s two unsuccessful defences in the cases.

DEFRA paid out £42,459.20 in costs to ClientEarth after losing the first case in 2015. There was an additional payment to ClientEarth, under an agreed Protective Costs Order (PCO) for £40,000, while the costs of clarifying the terms of the Supreme Court’s PCO was £192.

The cost of defending the second case was £236,016.30. DEFRA also paid sums of £35,000 and £11,000 to cover Client Earth’s costs. The court also ordered ClientEarth to pay Defra £5,000 for specific costs.

ClientEarth argued in the cases that the government could not cut nitrogen dioxide pollution as required under EU law. The court told the government to improve its proposals to tackle pollution in 2016.

The government published a new plan this July to deal with the problem. The highlight was to ban petrol and diesel cars from cities in 2040. However, it received widespread criticism for failing to offer more immediate solutions. James Thornton (pictured above), chief executive of ClientEarth, said at the time it was ‘little more than a shabby rewrite of the previous draft plans and is underwhelming and lacking in urgency.’

This month, ClientEarth sent another legal letter to Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, calling for him to introduce new measures to tackle air pollution. If he does not, then ClientEarth are set to bring another case against the government.

Cian Carton – Business & Law Editor