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Access to justice in environmental matters

This proposal grants citizens the right to initiate administrative or judicial procedures against acts or omissions that do not comply with environmental law. It is also intended to implement at the level of the Community and the Member States the third pillar of the Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters (Århus Convention). The ultimate aim is to improve the application of environmental law.

PROPOSAL

Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council 24 October 2003 on access to justice in environmental matters (presented by the Commission).

SUMMARY

This proposal establishes a set of minimum requirements on access to administrative and judicial procedures in environmental matters. It thus transposes the third pillar of the Århus Convention into Community law and the law of the Member States.

Acts and omissions by private persons

The Member States guarantee that members of the public (natural or legal persons and their associations, organisations or groups) may initiate administrative or judicial procedures against acts or omissions of private persons that do not respect environmental law.

Acts and omissions by public authorities

Member States will ensure that members of the public have access to administrative or judicial proceedings against administrative acts or omissions which infringe environmental law if they have a sufficient interest or if they show that their rights have been affected.

Member States guarantee that qualified entities (associations, groups or organisations recognised by a Member State whose objective is protecting the environment) may initiate administrative or judicial proceedings against violations of environmental law, without showing a sufficient interest or impairment of a right if the subject of the procedure is within the scope of their statutory and geographically relevant activities. Qualified entities recognised in a Member State may have recourse to such proceedings in another Member State.

Members of the public and qualified entities who have access to justice against an act or an omission must be able to submit a request for internal review. This request is a preliminary procedure under which the person or entity concerned can contact the public authority designated by the Member State before initiating legal or administrative proceedings. It must be submitted within four weeks of the date of the administrative act or omission. The public authority then has 12 weeks to take a written and reasoned decision and notify it to the party that submitted the request. In the decision, the authority should describe the measures necessary to comply with environmental law or, where appropriate, reject the request. If the authority cannot take a decision, it should inform the party submitting the request as soon as possible. If the authority fails to respond to the request within the period fixed for this purpose or if its decision does not enable compliance with environmental law, the party submitting the request may initiate an administrative or judicial procedure.

Recognition of qualified entities

The Member States should lay down a procedure for recognising qualified entities. They may choose between a preliminary procedure and a case-by-case (ad hoc) procedure. A qualified entity must always meet the following criteria:

  • operate on a non-profit basis and pursue the objective of protecting the environment;
  • have an organisational structure enabling it to achieve its objectives;
  • be legally constituted and have experience in environmental protection;
  • have its annual accounts certified by a registered auditor.

Administrative and judicial procedures

The administrative and judicial procedures provided for in this proposal must be objective, effective, adequate, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive.

Context: the Århus Convention

The Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters (Århus Convention) was signed by the European Community and its Member States in June 1998. Apart from the present proposal, two others presented in October 2003 were intended to give final approval to the Convention and apply its provisions to the Community's institutions and bodies.

The Århus Convention consists of three pillars. The first pillar, concerning the public's access to information, was implemented by the Community in Directive 2003/4/EC on public access to environmental information. The second one, transposed by Directive 2003/35/EC, concerns public participation in environmental procedures. The third pillar relates to public access to justice in environmental matters. The present proposal for a directive is intended to implement this third pillar of the Convention.

The Århus Convention is based on the idea that improving public access to information and justice and greater public participation in decision making in environmental matters lead to better application of environmental law.

REFERENCES AND PROCEDURE

ProposalOfficial JournalProcedure
COM(2003) 624 final-Codecision COD/2003/246
Last updated: 25.07.2007
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