The European Courts ruling in Case C-474/10 arose from a preliminary reference from the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland seeking clarification on two questions concerning the consultation procedure created by article 6 of the SEA Directive. The central question which was posed asked the Court to rule on whether, in the circumstances of the present case, where the authority designated as the environmental authority to be consulted is itself the authority responsible for the conception of the draft plan or programme, article 6(3) of the Directive requires Member States to designate another authority to be consulted in connection with the preparation of the environmental report and the adoption of that plan. It furthermore raised a second but more straightforward question seeking clarity as to whether it was permissible for Member States to implement the detailed arrangements giving effect to the article 6(2) requirement for early and effective consultation on a case-by-case basis as had occurred in the present case.
Although the European Court took the view that article 6 required what it called ;functional separation between the body designated as the environmental consultation authority and the plan making authority, it nevertheless ruled that article 6(3) did not require either the designation of another body as the environmental consultation authority or the creation of a new body for these purposes even in circumstances such as those posed by the present case. Whereas the High Court in Northern Ireland and Advocate General Bot both interpreted recital 15 as explaining a legislative intention to create a transparent and credible consultation process, the european Court appeared to take the view that the consultation process was designed to enable the giving of an ‘objective opinion by the environmental authority. Although the ECJ acknowledged that doing so would require the designated environmental authority to have what it termed ‘real autonomy, it ruled that this meant ‘in particular that it should be provided with administrative and human resources of its own, but not necessarily independent from the plan making authority.