Dramatic rise seen in environmental lawsuits

By CAO YIN (China Daily) Updated : 2017-07-14

The number of environmental public interest cases brought by NGOs and prosecutors increased rapidly during the past 12 months as related laws and a pilot program move forward, the nation's top court said.

A report on the Environment and Resource Adjudication of China, issued by the Supreme People's Court on Thursday, showed courts heard 848 environmental public interest cases between July 2016 and last month, of which 791 were initiated by prosecutors.

Of the lawsuits filed by prosecutors, 720 were against governmental departments, up from about 690 a year ago, the top court said.

"The soaring number shows that prosecutors have become a major force to initiate public interest lawsuits and they have played a bigger role to protect the public interest by increasing supervision of the law's implementation," said Jiang Bixin, vice-president of the top court.

In the revised Civil Procedure Law and Administrative Procedure Law, which were approved by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the top legislature, at the end of June, all prosecutors have been allowed to file environmental public interest lawsuits against poorly performing enterprises or governmental agencies.

Before that, prosecutors taking part in a two-year pilot program in 13 provincial regions, including Beijing and Guizhou province, had some success in initiating such lawsuits.

The extension and the increasing number of related disputes show the test was effective and "will be useful for courts to accumulate experience in hearing public interest cases", Jiang added.

In addition to prosecutors, NGOs have had the right to initiate environmental public interest lawsuits under a revised Environmental Protection Law since 2015, and they filed 57 such cases between July 2016 and last month.

In 2015, 14 NGOs in 20 provincial regions, such as Liaoning and Hebei provinces, initiated such lawsuits, "but now the number increased to 25 in Liaoning and 27 in Hebei", said Lyu Zhongmei, from the top court's environment and resource research center.

"Their lawsuits not only covered pollution of water, air and soil, but also issues relating to climate change, wetlands protection and endangered plants," she said.

Her center also selected 208 related cases between 2015 and 2016, finding NGOs won most lawsuits, and the time Chinese courts took to hear such disputes has been reduced.

"It's good to see the progress of environmental public interest lawsuits made by NGOs and prosecutors, but some procedures in initiating such cases, I think, need to be specified and regulated through guidelines," she suggested.

"For example, it's easy to say establish a fund to be used for the environmental restoration, but where the money is and how to supervise the use of it is more urgent to clarify," she said.