Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

The Precautionary Principle in International Law: Lessons from Fuller's Internal Morality

Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

The Precautionary Principle in International Law: Lessons from Fuller's Internal Morality

Article excerpt

Introduction

I.   The Precautionary Principle: An Attempt at Definition
     and Description

II.  Lon Fuller's Internal Morality of Law and the Precautionary
     Principle

     A. Generality
     B. Promulgation
     C. Retroactivity
     D. Clarity
     E. Contradictions in the Law
     F. Laws Requiring the Impossible
     G. Constancy of the Law Through Time
     H. Congruence Between Official Action and Declared Rules

III. Implications for Process

IV.  Excursus: The Beef Hormones Case--Operationalization
     of the Precautionary Principle

Conclusion: Anatomy of a Precautionary Legal Process

In contrast to the assimilative capacity approach, the precautionary principle in international law points to the limitations of the scientific understanding of complex phenomena. Under this principle, possible uncertainty about a cause-effect linkage between an activity and harm must not be a reason to postpone taking measures to protect the environment when risks of harm exist. The point at which the risks become unacceptable and whether the minimization of these risks is justified from an economic and social standpoint become questions of policy.

The authors analyze the precautionary principle through the lens of Lon Fuller's concept of the internal morality of law and suggest that even though some decisions made under the precautionary principle may offend law's internal morality, the principle cannot be said to be in conflict with it. Nothing inherent in the principle, or the decision-making processes under it, offends any of Fuller's eight precepts of internal morality--provided that decision makers carefully balance relevant considerations. By way of example, the article then demonstrates the central role that the precautionary principle played in the European Union's decision to ban the imports of hormone-treated beef.

The authors conclude that the benefits and pitfalls of the precautionary principle can only be seen by analyzing specific processes through which political choices are made under the principle, rather than by looking at the principle in the abstract.

Par opposition a l'approche dire de << capacite assimilative >>, le principe de precaution en droit international revele his limites d'une comprehension scientifique de phenomenes complexes. D'apres ce principe, la possible incertitude quant a l'existence d'un lien de causalite entre une activite et un prejudice ne saurait justifier le report de mesures de protection de l'environnement lorsque existent des risques de prejudice. Savoir a quel point ces risques deviennent inacceptables et dans quelle mesure la reduction de ces risques est justifiee d'un point de vue economique et social deviennent alors des questions de politique publique.

Les auteurs analysent le principe de precaution sous l'angle du concept de << moralite interne du droit >> developpe par Lon Fuller. Ils suggerent que meme si certaines decisions prises sous le principe de precaution peuvent contrevenir a la moralite interne du droit, le principe luimeme ne lui est pas oppose. Rien d'inherent au principe ou aux methodes de prise de decision developpees soils son autorite n'enfreint l'un des huit preceptes de la moralite interne du droit edictes par Fuller--dans la mesure ou les decideurs soupesent avec soin les facteurs pertinents. A titre d'exemple, l'article examine le role central du principe de precaution dans la decision de l'Union Europeenne de bannir les importations de viande de boeuf traite aux hormones.

En conclusion, les auteurs affirment que les benefices et inconvenients du principe de precaution ne sauraient etre consideres que dans le contexte d'une analyse des processus particuliers ou des choix politiques sont faits sous son egide, plutot qu'au terme d'un examen abstrait.

Introduction

The precautionary principle, conceived of as an approach to decision-making regarding toxic or hazardous chemicals in conditions of uncertainty about the impact of these substances once released into the environment, (1) has itself become a source of a good deal of uncertainty. …

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