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Environmental Public Interest Litigation and the Vitality of Environmental Courts: The development and future of environmental courts in China

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The past two years have seen an important development in environmental public interest litigation (“EPIL”) in China:  the establishment of environmental courts.  Since the establishment of Guiyang and Qingzhen Environmental Court and the first environmental public interest lawsuit in the Qingzhen Environmental Court in late 2007, nine other specialized courts have been set up in Yunnan and Jiangsu provinces, and three other environmental public interest cases have been handled.  However, the fate of environmental courts remains to be seen, as hesitations regarding the practicality, added value, low caseload, and seemingly slow development of the courts linger as obstacles to realizing a robust public interest litigation system in China.  I argue that these concerns are outweighed by the numerous benefits from environmental courts—namely, the courts will push forward environmental litigation, provide a space for judicial innovation, and ultimately enhance environmental protection.  This paper offers an overview of the historical development of the courts, analyses the cases handled and regulations on EPIL thus far, presents suggestions for the future direction of the courts, and finally, highlights the great potential inherent in environmental courts to strengthen environmental governance in China’s future.

Please click here for the English version of article, “Environmental Public Interest Litigation and the Vitality of Environmental Courts:  the Development and Future of Environmental Courts in China.”  Or click here for the original Chinese article.

This article was first published on January 29, 2010, in the People’s Court Daily, page 5.  Deputy Director of the Applied Law Institute at the Supreme People’s Court, Jiang Huiling, wrote a commentary in response to the article titled, “Balancing the Two-fold Expectations for Judicial Reform.”  Click here to read this article (Chinese-only).

Finally, I would like to graciously thank those who assisted in the formation and collection of research for this paper:  the Research Institute of Environmental Law at Wuhan University, the Environmental Resources Law Institute at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims in China, the American Bar Association Global Rule of Law Initiative in China, and all judges and officials who participated interviews, surveys, research, and related conferences.

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