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Justice for homeowners unable to challenge plans for a railway in a protected nature area

Karin Andersson and others v. Sweden |2014

Justice for homeowners unable to challenge plans for a railway in a protected nature area

[The homeowners] did not have access to a court for the determination of their civil rights in this case.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, December 2014

Background 

In the early-2000s, homeowners expressed alarm at government-approved plans for a railway to be built close to where they lived in Umeå, Sweden, near a European network of special nature protection areas.

The residents demanded that the government’s decision be overturned. They asked Sweden’s highest court to carry out a full legal review, arguing that the decision breached environmental rules.

The court dismissed the homeowners’ complaint. It said they would have the chance for a legal review when the authorities presented a complete plan. 

But when the plan was finalised, the court said it was legally bound by the government’s decision to allow the project to go ahead and a full legal review would not be possible. 

The construction of the railway went ahead. Some of the homeowners were compensated. Noise barriers were put up near some of the properties affected.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court found that Sweden had denied the homeowners the right to a full legal review of the authorities’ decisions, including whether the location of the railway affected their rights as property owners. This breached their right to access a court.

Follow-up 

By the time the European court made its judgment, Sweden’s highest court had changed its approach to the legal review of government decisions, specifically concerning road constructions affecting people in a similar situation to the homeowners in this case. 

In 2011, the Swedish court recognised that a government decision to allow the construction of a road involved an assessment of local homeowners’ civil rights and the homeowners therefore had the right to a legal review of that decision.