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Specialized courts for environment cases among proposals as law experts mull green governance

Assigning environment-related legal cases to specialized tribunals, courts and judges is among the ideas being aired as experts convene in Malaysia for a two-day United Nations conference on the relationship between the world's law, justice and governance systems and sustainable development.

High court "green benches" already exist in India, established by that country's Supreme Court to ensure judges have the expertise and resources to properly consider environmental issues.

"Specialist environment courts and tribunals can reduce the number of cases brought before the Supreme Courts and High Courts, facilitate more consistent of expeditious environmental decision-making and be less expensive," says Greg Rose, associate law professor at Australia's University of Wollongong, just south of Sydney.

In a brief prepared for the Malaysia meeting, entitled "Gaps in the Implementation of Environmental Law at the National Regional and Global Level," Mr. Rose also recommends creating a catalog of the type and severity of penalties imposed in environment-related judgements as an international resource for prosecutors and judges.

"These may be especially useful in courts of general jurisdiction where there is limited expertise in environment matters," he says.

Among the complex considerations and issues commonly confronting judges in environment-related cases:

  • The public's right to information and participation
  • Interpreting agreed international principles of sustainable development, including the polluter pays principle and the precautionary principle
  • Inter-generational interests and entitlements
  • Obtaining authoritative information and interpreting technical scientific assessments
  • Interpretation of constitutional rights - including rights to life and a healthy environment
  • Corporate responsibility and liability, and obligating continuous environmental impact assessment
  • Jud

Contact: Terry Collins
Malaysian Industry‑Government Group for High Technology

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