Eco-tougher

Top court en­cour­ages NGOs, pros­e­cu­tors to re­dou­ble ef­forts in public-in­ter­est cases

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By CAO YIN caoyin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

China’s top court called on en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions and pros­e­cut­ing au­thor­i­ties to re­dou­ble their ef­forts in public-in­ter­est cases.

China’s top court called on en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions and pros­e­cut­ing au­thor­i­ties to re­dou­ble their ef­forts in deal­ing with en­vi­ron­men­tal public-in­ter­est lit­i­ga­tion, as the num­ber of such cases has in­creased rapidly.

Since re­laxed rules for ini­ti­at­ing a law­suit took ef­fect in Jan­uary 2015, Chi­nese courts have ac­cepted 93 en­vi­ron­men­tal civil public-in­ter­est law­suits brought by NGOs.

“En­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions have a role to play in pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and ecol­ogy,” said Lyu Zhong­mei, of the top court’s en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­log­i­cal re­search cen­ter.

“The num­ber of cases ini­ti­ated by NGOs looks big, but in fact it is far from enough,” she said. “More than 700 en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions across the na­tion have been cer­ti­fied by the Min­istry of Civil Af­fairs to sue in public-in­ter­est cases, but so far less than 10 of them have brought such law­suits.”

Public-in­ter­est lit­i­ga­tion brought by pros­e­cu­tors against en­vi­ron­men­tal bu­reaus that ne­glected their su­per­vi­sory du­ties are also sel­dom seen, ac­cord­ing to the re­search cen­ter. The small sam­ple makes it hard for the top court to push fur­ther in that area, it said.

Courts ac­cepted 116 en­vi­ron­men­tal public-in­ter­est cases from Jan­uary 2015 to June. Of those, 104 were civil lit­i­ga­tions, and 12 in­volved gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, ac­cord­ing to a white pa­per re­leased by the Supreme Peo­ple’s Court.

There were only 65 dis­putes be­tween 2007 and 2014, the court said, adding that the boom in the past year is at­trib­ut­able to an eas­ing of the le­gal pro­ce­dures re­quired to ini­ti­ate a case.

In Jan­uary 2015, a new En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Law took ef­fect, mak­ing clear that NGOs are al­lowed to ini­ti­ate public-in­ter­est law­suits.

Thir­teen months later, the top court is­sued a ju­di­cial guide­line al­low­ing pros­e­cut­ing bod­ies to ini­ti­ate such lit­i­ga­tion and se­lect­ing courts in 13 prov­inces, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and au­ton­o­mous re­gions for a pi­lot gro­gram.

Lyu sug­gested that courts should in­crease their com­mu­ni­ca­tion with fi­nan­cial de­part­ments, as some re­gional gov­ern­ments have es­tab­lished spe­cial funds for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

“What we should do is to en­sure that gov­ern­ments can take ad­van­tage of the funds in line with the lawand put them to use,” she said.

For im­prov­ing hearings in public-in­ter­est cases, the courts have set up 558 tri­bunals or pan­els to make en­vi­ron­men­tal tri­als more pro­fes­sional, the white pa­per said.

From Jan­uary 2014 to June, al­most 300,000 en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­log­i­cal cases were con­cluded in courts. Of those, 37,216 in­volved crim­i­nal mat­ters, and 47,087 of­fend­ers were pun­ished.

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