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Brussels issues guidelines on green justice

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Brussels issues guidelines on green justice

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(BRUSSELS) - The EU Commission issued a guidance document on access to green justice Friday, outlining how the public can hold authorities to account on environmental matters.

The guidelines, which relate to issues such as air quality, water and waste management, clarify how individuals and associations can challenge decisions, acts and omissions by public authorities related to EU environmental law before national courts.

"Environmental law is at the forefront of our efforts to build a sustainable future for the EU," said Frans Timmermans, Commission first vice-president, "and everybody needs to have a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities."

"Environmental laws are about protecting people and their health," said Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella: "When public authorities fail to respect the rights and obligations under these laws, the public can hold them accountable."

The guidance is intended to help individuals and non-governmental organisations to decide whether to bring a case before national courts.

National courts can use it to help identify all the EU Court of Justice cases that they should take into account when they are faced with questions related to access to justice in environmental cases.

With this guidance, national administrations are made aware of possible shortcomings in their justice systems and businesses are provided with greater clarity on what EU rights and obligations are at stake in the decisions, acts and omissions that concern them.

The European Court of Justice has issued a number of rulings clarifying EU requirements on access to justice in environmental matters. Examples include:

  • How national courts should address pleas that municipal air quality plans do not provide for sufficiently effective measures to reach the air quality standards laid down in EU air legislation;
  • The role of the public, notably environmental non-governmental organisations, in helping to ensure that the obligations under EU nature legislation are respected in the Member States;
  • Assessment criteria that national courts should employ to avoid that prohibitively high litigation costs prevent citizens and associations from exercising their role in upholding EU environmental law at national level.

The guidance note brings all of these rulings together in a single text, which should make it easier for people to understand them and their implications by providing one comprehensive document.

Factsheet: Access to Justice in Environmental matters

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