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Clean air: a claim under Article 2?

News | Mon 6th Jun, 2016

In February 2013 nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah from Hither Green in South London died after suffering a severe asthma attack. “Can the courts be used to establish that we have a human right to clean air?” asked Nick Robinson on the Today Programme this morning. A report by Royal College of Physicians has apparently linked 40,000 deaths to pollution each year.  A successful case against the government would arguably put the government under considerable pressure as well as resulting in justice for affected families.

Ella’s mother and her lawyer were interviewed on the programme. Ella had very severe asthma. According to the Today Programme, nitrogen dioxide levels around their home on the South Circular are double the EU legal limit. Her lawyer, Jocelyn Cockburn, a partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, commented that the coroner had not looked into pollution as a cause of death. The immediate objective, she said, was to try and get a wider investigation into pollution and whether it contributed to Ella’s death. She is seeking to do this by bringing a claim against Lewisham Council and the Mayor of London. She said that they were considering whether or not a case could be brought against the UK government under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Right to Life) on the basis that the government knew that Ella was at immediate risk.

There is clearly a long way to go in terms of establishing causation and a claim, but this will be one to keep a close eye on. The full interview can be heard on

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