Northern Ireland

Alternative A5 Alliance face bill of £20,000 if case lost

A5 road
Image caption No work can be done on the scheme until after the court case

The group leading a challenge against the new A5 road between Londonderry and Aughnacloy will face a maximum £20,000 legal bill if they lose.

High Court Judge Mr Justice Horner said the scale of the cap he imposed on the case was not "prohibitively expensive".

Work on the road has been held up indefinitely by the court case launched by the Alternative A5 Alliance (AA5A).

The Department for Regional Development (DRD) is the government ministry behind the 53 mile long road scheme.

Lawyers for the AA5A, a group of 18 farmers, businessmen and landowners, claim no proper environmental impact assessment has been carried out.

Their application for judicial review is due to be heard early next year.

But ahead of that, the court had to decide on a protective costs order to limit their bill should they ultimately lose.

More than 100 other contributors and supporters have raised £75,000 to fund their own legal expenses.

Image caption Lawyers for the group said they did not have a lifestyle such as at that enjoyed at Southfork Ranch in Dallas.

Counsel for the campaign group insisted that members should only have to pay £5,000 of the other side's costs.

He pointed to a European directive and UN Treaty to back the contention that access to environmental justice must not be prohibitively expensive.

A contrast was also drawn between the AA5A's financial circumstances and those of the Ewing family of oil barons in the TV show Dallas.

Rejecting any categorisation of the plaintiffs as rich farmers, Gregory Jones QC told the court: "It's as far from Southfork, Texas as you can imagine."

Counsel for the DRD claimed, however, that a protective costs order of £50,000 would be more reflective of the alliance's membership.

In a decision which fell between the two camps, Mr Justice Horner took into account the public interest of an environmental challenge, ensuring access to justice, and the means of those taking the action.

He said: "In those circumstances I propose to make a protective costs order and cap the costs liability of the alliance at £20,000.

"Given there are approximately 135 persons involved this works out at a reasonably modest cost per person.

"I consider this cannot be said to be prohibitively expensive, even when taking into account the contribution each of them made to the costs of the alliance."

The judge declined to impose any cap on the costs recoverable from the DRD should the campaigners ultimately win.

A separate application for an interim injunction to halt preliminary site preparation work on the A5 scheme will be heard later this month.

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