Centre for Ethics and Law


The US Environmental Court: Lessons for the UK?

1 November 2011

November 2nd is the 21st anniversary of the Vermont Environmental Court, the only such specialist court in the United States

US Environmental Court

Thus, the timing was right for a UCL seminar the previous night organised by the UK Environmental Law Association and the Centre for Law and the Environment at which Judge Merideth Wright, the first judge at the Vermont court, gave an account of its workings to an audience of British lawyers and LLM students.

The UCL event was chaired by Lord Justice Carnwath, Senior President of Tribunals in this country. Judge Wright’s talk was especially timely because a specialist environmental tribunal is now in the process of being established in England and Wales. Its initial jurisdictions will be to hear appeals against new forms of civil penalties being introduced into environmental law, but its functions may well extend in future to cover other areas of environmental regulation such as appeals against refusal of a waste management licences.

Judge Wright’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion involving Mr Justice Keith Lindblom;  Nick Warren, President General Regulatory Chamber and Professor Richard Macrory QC of UCL,  author of a recent report on strengthening the new environmental tribunal. It became increasingly clear during the seminar that, despite the very different legal systems, there were extremely valuable lessons to be learnt from the Vermont experience at a critical time in thinking about new UK institutional arrangements for handling environmental law.