Ireland should have a dedicated environmental court along the lines of the Workplace Relations Commission or the Residential Tenancies Board, lawyers said at a Climate Bar Association (CBA) symposium on Friday (21 January). The association presented a report recommending a specialist environmental- relations commission, which would act as a multi-door environmental court.
A draft model environmental code for Ireland was also presented by speaker Louise Reilly BL, who said that a code was not only a moral imperative, but both desirable and achievable.
Event moderator Ms Justice Marie Baker of the Supreme Court responded that she was deeply wedded to common law, and a little bit sceptical about the value of a code. However, she saw some value in a code dealing with standing problems that arose in climate-change cases in Ireland. “Of course, embedded as I am in the common law, I am also well used to operating in areas of EU law, which is effectively codified, and has been codified in Ireland,” she added.
The proposed court would serve as a less formal location for people with environmental concerns to bring cases related to air and water pollution, hedge-cutting, habitat destruction, wildlife-crime, and other issues.
Clíona Kimber SC, chair of the CBA, said: “The awareness of climate and environmental matters is increasingly obvious in Ireland. However, our research confirms that the biggest barrier to effective and comprehensive and effective environmental law is how we as legislators frame and clearly define this area of law. “The aim of this symposium is to create a conversation towards a model environmental law and a new way of enforcing it. Crucial to this is that the public and legislators have easy access, and an understanding of environmental law, and how it can be used to effectively progress the climate-change-prevention agenda.
“The model environmental code we will share serves to unify and simplify environmental legislation, and we urge Government to consider our findings,” she said.
Barrister Deirdre Ní Fhloinn said that enforcing environmental law is hampered by cultural factors such as the reluctance to confront neighbours, a lack of legal knowledge, and cumbersome procedures.
Louise Reilly said that activists have demanded that ecocide, or mass environmental damage, be listed as an international crime, to sit within the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The rights of nature should not be a radical idea, Reilly told the symposium, and ecocide should be a domestic offence. “We do not yet have a culture of actively reporting, acting on, and imposing sanctions in relation to that harm,” said Ms Ní Fhloinn.
Source – Law Society