Polluters Targeted by Court Dedicated to Environmental Cases
Robert Verkaik Legal Affairs Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)
JUDGES ARE to be given tough powers to protect Britain from pollution and over-development under propoosals for a new environmental court.
The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has commissioned two reports which back the creation of a dedicated court headed by senior judges specialising in environmental law.
The move follows concern that the legal system has failed to meet the growing threat posed by industry and multi-national companies. The new court would have a wide jurisdiction, hearing prosecutions against polluters, settling planning disputes as well as dealing with other potential threats to the environment, such as the siting of GM crops, wind turbines or even airports.
One of the reports, by environmental consultants Capacity Global, found there is a perception of a "failure of the government and the legal system to recognise the strong public interest element of environmental cases". This is combined with a perceived bias of judges and other adjudicators towards "development and commerce"- a bias often reflected by lenient sentences meted out in magistrates' courts. It recommends a specialist environmental court is made up of a panel of judges and non-legal environment experts..
A second study, also commissioned by Defra, found that just as many judicial review challenges were being brought by big business as by individuals or groups threatened by pollution or development. The report, undertaken by the Centre for Law and the Environment at University College London, concluded that the new court should be a higher tribunal to hear appeals on all environmental law policy. …