Northern Ireland

High Court to hear legal challenge over car emissions testing

A vehicle during its MOT test (PA)
A vehicle during its MOT test (PA) A vehicle during its MOT test (PA)

A legal challenge has been launched against the Department for Infrastructure (DFI) for its alleged failure to carry out emissions testing on cars.

Environmental justice groups and the Northern Ireland children’s rights watchdog are taking the case to the High Court later on Thursday, claiming the lack of emissions testing was impacting air quality.

Hundreds of thousands of diesel cars in Northern Ireland have never received a legally compliant exhaust emissions test at government-controlled MOT vehicle testing centres, those behind the legal challenge have claimed.

They have said the test was initially introduced in 2006 but was stopped after four months and was not subsequently restarted.

MOT closures
MOT closures A headlight beam test is carried out on a vehicle during its MOT test (PA)

Friends of the Earth NI, supported by The Public Interest Litigation Support (PILS) Project, are taking legal proceedings, with the aim to compel the DFI to recommence testing as soon as possible.

During the one-day High Court hearing, their legal team will argue that in failing to fully test the emissions of diesel cars in Northern Ireland, the DFI has breached its duties under vehicle testing law, alongside its duties to protect public health.

PILS director Maria McCloskey said that the DFI’s alleged failure to comply with the law for 17 years was “completely unacceptable”.

She said: “This landmark public interest case is about defending everyone’s right to breathe clean air and eradicating a triple threat to public health, natural habitats and biodiversity.”

Ms McCloskey has assumed the role of instructing solicitor in the case, taking over from Friends of the Earth NI.

James Orr, Friends of the Earth NI director, said: “We are taking the government to court because we all have a right to breathe clean air.”

The NI Commissioner for Children and Young People Chris Quinn said: “NICCY intervened in this case to hold the government to account and to highlight the relevant human rights concerns and the serious adverse impact that poor air quality has on children’s health.

“This milestone case is so important, as these exhaust emissions affect us all, but it particularly affects children and young people, as is borne out by the scientific evidence referred to in this case.

“It is vitally important that the department acts urgently to ensure that emissions are adequately tested. It is a basic right for children and young people to be able to breathe clean air.”

The Clean Air NI judicial review is setting a legal precedent in Northern Ireland as one of the first cases to rely on the Climate Change Act 2022 in court.

The Department for Infrastructure has been approached for comment.