LONDON (Reuters) - British judges have asked the European Court of Justice to fast-track a case against the British government over its failure to meet EU air quality standards, documents showed, meaning proceedings could start before the end of the year.
In May, Britain's highest appeal court ruled the government was in breach of EU limits on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) - a colourless, odourless gas produced by burning fuels which can damage people's breathing.
It asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg to give guidance on what action ought to be taken.
Normally, it would take ECJ could take up to 18 months to respond but Britain's Supreme Court, in an order dated Tuesday, asked it to give a decision "quickly".
This could mean the case is heard in Luxembourg before the end of the year, according to environmental law firm ClientEarth which brought the case against the government in 2011.
The case would then return for a final ruling next year by the Supreme Court, which could force Britain to take steps to improve air quality.
Forty out of Britain's 43 air quality zones exceeded NO2 limits they were supposed to meet by 2010.
The government's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said 23 zones might comply by 2015 and 16 between 2015 and 2020, while London is not expected to meet the targets before 2025.
(The story corrects to NO2, not CO2 in par 7.)
Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Andrew Heavens