Whittling down pollution

By Tang Yuankai
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Beijing Review, October 28, 2014
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"Because of the lack of rules to follow, lower courts are not sure what cases to hear, and worry whether they will offend local governments. Now the environmental tribunal of the SPC can make the rules," said Wang Canfa, a professor in China University of Political Science and Law and one of the proponents of environmental and resource tribunals.

Adjudication of environmental cases needs special expertise, including knowledge of very complicated nature sciences, special skills to collect evidence and infer causal relations, said Zhao Huiyu, an associate professor with Shanghai Jiaotong University.

There are few university graduates who are well versed in environmental sciences and laws to serve in environmental tribunals in cities such as Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province, said Fang Kun, Zhao's colleague.

Wang said that delivering training on environment laws should be one of the priorities of the environmental tribunal of the SPC.

He also suggested deepening reform of the judicial system, for instance, setting up courts that have trans-regional jurisdiction because environmental problems are usually trans-regional, and carrying out reforms to make it easier to file environmental lawsuits.

Clearing obstacles

Due to difficulties for the public to file environment cases, many environmental tribunals are running under capacity.

The general public are reluctant to file environmental cases because such cases are likely to be rejected by courts, and even if they are accepted, it usually takes a long time for courts to reach their ruling, and the indemnities they can get sometimes are not enough to cover litigation costs, said Ma Jun, a well-known environmental activist and Director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

"To enhance adjudication of environmental and resource related cases, we should start from facilitating environmental public interest litigation," said Xi Xiaoming, Vice President of the SPC on May 29 at a seminar.

Previously, environmental organizations or parties not directly victimized were not eligible to fine public interest lawsuits. In recent years, laws have been amended to give them the legal standing to sue on behalf of victims.

The amended civil procedure law that went into force in early 2013 gives the green light to environmental public interest lawsuits. Article 55 grants the right to the authorities and relevant organizations prescribed by the law to bring lawsuits against acts which give rise to environmental pollution as well as acts harmful to the consumer's legitimate interests.

The amended Environment Protection Law to be implemented next year also stipulates that social organizations that meet certain conditions may file public interests litigations against acts that pollute the environment, damage ecology, and harm the public interest. These social organizations must be registered with civil affairs administrations above city level, and have engaged in environmental protection activities for five consecutive years with no law-violation records.

In this May, the Ecological Protection Tribunal of Qingzhen People's Court accepted a cross-regional public interest litigation filed by All-China Environment Federation.


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