of a new environmental tribunal would mark a major step towards achieving
environmental justice in this country, by providing a far stronger
framework for dealing with the complex cases of environmental pollution
that can come before the courts. That is the key recommendation of
a UCL research report funded by DEFRA and published on 11 June 2003.
The report describes how a specialised environmental
tribunal would be far better equipped to deal knowledgeably and efficiently
with cases involving such issues as landfill sites and contaminated
land. Such a tribunal could also provide the mechanism whereby individuals
or businesses could appeal against the granting of licences for testing
and using Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
The UCL team found a general level of dissatisfaction
with current appeal arrangements because of the confusion arising from
the wide variety of different appeal mechanisms and bodies which exist.
In some cases, no explicit right of appeal is provided in the legislation
at all, so that individuals and businesses have to resort to time consuming
and costly judicial review procedures in the High Court in order to
challenge decisions taken by the Government or its agencies.
The report also recommends that members of the
public and NGOs be allowed to make appeals or be heard in such environmental
cases in certain circumstances in order to generally enhance access
to environmental justice.
“The current system that has developed for
dealing with environmental cases is one that is not easily understood
even by regular users, and has failed to reflect contemporary developments
in environmental law,” said Professor Richard Macrory of the
UCL Centre for Law and Environment. “A specialised environmental
tribunal would increase public confidence in the operation of environmental
regulation in this country. It would reduce the burden on judicial
bodies that are less suited to handling these types of appeal, and
would be easier to use for individuals and businesses.
“The need for an environmental tribunal
is all the more pressing given the range of new environmental requirements
currently on the horizon, covering issues such as end of life vehicles,
environmental liability, greenhouse gas emissions trading and agricultural
waste. The tribunal would also help the UK to better meet its international
commitments on access to environmental justice under the Aarhus Convention.”
The report’s authors set out specific examples
of how an environmental tribunal might operate in practice to improve
the quality of environmental justice, including the following case
- Following complaints of noise and dust pollution
from local residents, a local authority serves a statutory nuisance
notice on a company operating a foundry works in an urban area. The
company appeals against the notice and because of the complex issues
involved this appeal is handled by the environmental tribunal rather
than the local magistrates’ court. The new tribunal reaches
its decision based on its specialised knowledge of the relevant law
and wide experience in this field, and upholds the notice. Should
the company then fail to comply, the prosecution for non-compliance
would be heard by the local magistrates’ court, which need
only be concerned with assessing the factual evidence of non-compliance
rather than the validity of the notice.
- A seminar to launch the report was held on
11 June 2003 at the offices of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. For
more information contact Heidi Foden, UCL Media Relations, 020 7679
- The report ‘Modernising Environmental
Justice – Regulation and the Role of an Environmental Tribunal’ has
been prepared by Professor Richard Macrory CBE and Michael Woods,
LLM, Solicitor, at the Centre for Law and the Environment, Faculty
of Laws, University College London, for the Department for Environment
Food and Rural Affairs; copies will be available for downloading
at the research project webpage – www.ucl.ac.uk/laws/environment
or from the Media Relations office.
- The Aarhus Convention on Access to Information,
Public Participation in Decision Making and Access to Justice in
Environmental Matters was completed by the United Nations Economic
Commission for Europe (UNECE) in 1998 and came into force on 30 October
2001. The European Community, including the UK, has signed the Convention,
and is in the process of putting in place amending legislation to
allow formal ratification. The Convention includes obligations on
state parties to ensure a “clear, transparent and consistent
framework” for environmental regulation, and to provide “adequate
and effective remedies... [that are] fair, equitable, timely and
not prohibitively expensive”. For more details see: www.unece.org/env/pp/.