Looking for an effective legal channel to address environmental problems? Specialized environmental courts, says China.

Already the famous comparative law scholar Mauro Cappelletti in his pioneering work on access to justice argued that specialized bodies are the best answer to the question how to guarantee that the public has an effective access to justice in very specific legal situations. Environmental issues, which have often a very technical nature, are undoubtedly prominent examples of such problems with very specific nature. This fact has been gradually acknowledged in China, a country whose rapid economic growth has taken toll on the state of its environment. The indiscriminate character of environmental problems, such as pollution, affecting everyone from the influential Party members and businessmen to ordinary citizens, has gradually contributed to the recognition that environmental issues are increasingly being treated as issues of national interest. The growing middle class wants to enjoy not only fruits of economic growth, but also clean air. Beginning with pilot projects in several Chinese cities and provinces with enlightened administrations, various forms of judicial bodies dealing specifically with environmental problems have been spreading across the whole China. Luo Li in the chapter titled “Research on the Reform of the Judicial Relief System for Environmental Disputes in China” in the book “China's Influence on Non-Trade Concerns in International Economic Law” draws up an account of various legal channels that might be used to address environmental issues in China. Beginning with administrative, civil and criminal procedure, he elaborates on the evolution of specialized environmental judiciary and environmental public interest litigation in China. He provides an overview of challenges these new tools need to overcome to be able to live up to their fullest potential as well as the account of first successes that have been already experienced. The institutions and rules themselves are not sufficient; it is the people deciding and litigating these often very complicated cases, who need to comprehend their profoundly technical nature to be able to issue just and qualified decisions and litigate the cases in a qualified manner. Hence, the building of viable institutions and drafting of effective laws needs to go hand in hand with capacity building of judges and lawyers dealing with environmental cases. Despite the inevitable shortcomings each innovation needs to experience, with the establishment of specialized judicial bodies China has joined the club of countries already successfully making use of specialized environmental judicial bodies, such as India, Australia or some countries of Latin America. China has now the possibility to be a bright disciple of its more experienced partners in this regard. It remains to be seen whether it will be one of the disciples surpassing its mentors. Luo Li's chapter provides a competent introduction to this topic.