As climate cases multiply, META takes a closer look at the concept of ‘access to justice’ for environmental matters and how to get it, in the EU.
The past years have demonstrated two things: people want to protect the environment and they are willing to go to court to get this protection.
Around the world, citizens and NGOs are taking governments to court for their inaction against climate change.
In theory, the EU legal system guarantees access to justice for environmental matters to citizens and NGOs, but what about in practice?
What does ‘access to justice for environmental matters’ means?
Access to justice is the ability for a legal person to challenge a decision or bring an issue to court. In the EU, there are different levels of access to justice: the national level (with regional and national courts) and the EU level (with the Court of Justice of the European Union).
When talking about access to justice for environmental matters, we refer to the ability for citizens and NGOs to challenge decisions – related to the environment – through courts or tribunals. In the EU, the Aarhus regulation sets the rules for NGOs to access to justice on environmental matters.
Who can access justice for environmental matters?
Access to justice for environmental matters is granted to NGOs and individuals under the Aarhus convention.
Feature: Environmental Justice, did you know: you have the right to know?
According to the Aarhus convention, the conditions to access justice for environmental matters should be the same for both individuals and NGOs.
In theory citizens and NGOs have the right to access justice for environmental matters (through national or European legal systems). However access to justice is not always guaranteed for NGOs and citizens in member states because the Aarhus convention has not been properly implemented everywhere.
In the EU, one of the barriers to access to justice is ‘standing’. To challenge a decision, NGOs and individuals need to prove that the decision affects them personally. This requirement means that claims made solely ‘in the interest of the environment’ cannot be made.
Any tips for people needing help to access justice?
You can reach out to NGOs working on the issue you are concerned about, for example through the EEB’s network.
Client Earth has created a database of lawyers that work on environmental justice cases and have developed an access to justice project.
The European Commission has published detailed explanations about the laws that give access to justice for environmental matters in your country.
The EEB has also published a report about current barriers to access to justice in the EU.
The article is the first part of a series of three that explain your environmental reights in the EU, as part of the Implement for LIFE project.