Supreme Court's landmark ruling for anti-sewage dumping campaigners

On 2 July 2024, the Supreme Court published its judgment in Manchester Ship Canal Company Ltd (Appellant) v United Utilities Water Ltd (Respondent) (No 2) [2024] UKSC 22. Hausfeld’s client, the Environmental Law Foundation (“ELF”), intervened in support of Manchester Ship Canal’s (“MSCCL”) appeal. In a landmark decision for environmental campaigners, the Supreme Court unanimously allowed MSCCL’s appeal and ruled that owners of watercourses can bring private law claims against sewage undertakers arising from sewage dumping, even if there has been no negligence or deliberate wrongdoing.

The appeal forms part of long-running litigation about discharges of foul water contaminated with untreated sewage into the Manchester Ship Canal. MSCCL threatened to bring a claim against United Utilities (“UU”) for trespass and nuisance. UU asked the court to make a declaration that MSCCL had no right of action. The High Court agreed to make the declaration requested by UU. The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision.

The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether MSCCL was able to bring a claim in nuisance and/or trespass when the canal is polluted by discharges of foul water from outfalls maintained by the sewage undertaker, UU. The implication of the judgments in the lower courts was that, absent an allegation of negligence or deliberate wrongdoing, no owner of any watercourse or body of water can bring any claim based on nuisance or trespass against any sewerage undertaker in respect of polluting discharges into the water, however frequent and voluminous the discharges may be, and however damaging they may be to the owner’s commercial or other interests or to the owner’s ability to use or enjoy its property. In view of that wider importance, the Supreme Court permitted ELF to make submissions as intervener.  

The Supreme Court unanimously allowed MSCCL’s appeal. The Supreme Court held that the Water Industry Act 1991 does not prevent MSCCL from bringing a claim in nuisance or trespass when the canal is polluted from discharges of foul water from UU’s outfalls, even if there has been no negligence or deliberate misconduct.

Hausfeld have had a longstanding involvement with this case, initially representing a consortium of interveners, including ELF, in the Court of Appeal proceedings in March 2022.

Wessen Jazrawi, Partner at Hausfeld, comments: “This judgment is significant, both for the vindication of the rights of riparian owners, but also for the message it sends to polluting water companies: that they can no longer pollute our waterways with impunity. We are delighted with the outcome and for our client, the Environmental Law Foundation, whose day-to-day work includes helping people and organisations deal with the fallout from such polluted waterways."

The Hausfeld team consisted of Wessen Jazrawi and Hana Tawfik. The counsel team were Stephen Hockman KC of 6 Pump Court and Tom Cleaver of Blackstone Chambers.

The full judgment


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