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CHINESE ENVIRONMENTAL TRIBUNALS: TOP LEVEL TRIBUNALS IMPROVE LOWER COURTS

Figures indicate that China has 365 environmental protection courts, collegiate panels and circuit courts. However, the number of cases heard is low. For example, data show that in Jiangsu province, home to the Yangzte River Basin industrial belt, over 50,000 environmental complaints and petitions were made, but only 85 cases were resolved through the courts. In this context, at the 4th Environmental Justice Forum, local courts have complained of a lack of cases to hear.

In order to overcome these problems, the Supreme People’s Court has launched a program to foster specialization in the administration of environmental justice. The Supreme People’s Court has founded a Tribunal specialized for environmental cases, appointing Guo Xuelin to lead this Court.

According to Guo Xuelin, the Supreme People’s Court’s has the objective to improve the handling of environmental cases, in order to achieve an ecologically-civilized society. Moreover, lower level courts have been encouraged to establish systems for hearing environmental cases.

Furthermore, Guo Xuelin has explained that interpretation plays a crucial role in promoting environmental public interest cases. The Civil Procedure Law and Environmental Protection Law establish special rules on environmental public interest cases; in this way, a local court handling such a case for the first time might not know how to proceed as there’s no specific procedure or way of making judgment.

This system entails that the provincial courts has a task to institute their own environmental protection systems. Then, the subordinate courts had done the same in line with the needs of the province, establishing jurisdictions across regional and local administrative boundaries.

However, the situation is complex. There are a lot of complaints and petitions that don’t reach the judicial system. The reasons are various. Firstly, it’s not easy to bring a case: the legal procedures are confused, and a court that accepts a case might not know how to proceed.

In this framework, setting up bodies as environmental courts represents an important aspect of the specialization of environmental justice.

For environmental justice, the best system is to have a dedicated environmental court, such as in Australia and New Zealand. Another key option is a dedicated body to hear environmental cases, as an environmental tribunal. Also, in locations without many cases, the third option is a dedicated collegiate panel. In this way, specialized personnel will play a central role: environmental public interest cases involve criminal, civil and administrative law, creating overlaps and complexity, requiring specialized staff.

Additionally, most environmental cases heard by local courts are resolved through mediation rather than judgment. This fact represents a crucial issue. The new system entails that courts will publish the content of mediated agreements before they are issued: public interest cases are not just a matter of the interests of the two parties and cannot be decided between them. Consequently, the court must examine the agreement.

In conclusion, the administration of justice and judicial verdicts will play a guiding role: the creation of bodies hearing environmental and resource cases will help compensate for a lack of environmental law enforcement.

 

The gLAWcal Team

POREEN project

Saturday, 25 October 2014

(Source: ChinaDialogue)