A Climate Bar Association symposium was held Friday to inform Ireland that Ireland urgently needs a dedicated environment court. It should be accessible at a low cost and offer a wide range of remedies, sanctions, and costs.
Cliona Kimber, SC said that a specialist environmental dispute resolution court (ECT), similar to the Workplace Relations Commission/Labour Court, should be pursued. This approach has been proven successful all over the world, with the exception of New South Wales.
She said that while it would allow for class actions and provide for a wider range of remedies, the High Court would still operate in parallel. However, the ECT would be more informal and engage in alternative dispute resolution such as mediation, conciliation, and arbitration.
Many people are concerned about wildlife and air quality, and there is a strong demand for the court. She believed that this court is not for everyone.
The High Court’s move to establish an environment case listing later in the year was admirable in its own right, she said, but it is not comprehensive enough.
In spite of this huge body of law, the environment is still routinely despoiled and polluted: rivers are still polluted, habitats and insect numbers are declining, bird and insect numbers are decreasing, mature trees hundreds years old are being cut down, hedges are not cut out of season, and the climate crisis has intensified, she stated in a paper she presented to the symposium.
There is often a shortage of expertise in the Irish court system and elsewhere. The procedural rules for bringing a case before a court for breach are often too restrictive, especially in regards to standing. Sanctions, even if they are imposed at all, are often too weak to deter rule breaches in the future. The average citizen cannot afford a system to prevent future damage. Ms Kimber stated, “The range of remedies is too narrow and focuses on sanctions for past breaches.”
Barrister Deirdre Fhloinn described the findings of stakeholder consults to identify barriers to environmental law enforcement in Ireland. She stated that it shows that people have difficulty finding information about enforcement of environmental laws.
She stated that there is a cultural reluctance for certain types of environmental harm to be reported due to fear of local repercussions from neighbours or local business owners. However, there is an incoherent set rules without a consistent enforcement toolbox.
Ms. N Fhloinn stated that the culture of nonreporting is mirrored by a culture without enforcement, which has serious consequences for the environment and biodiversity, as well as our physical heritage.
Louise Reilly is a specialist in arbitration law. She said that Ireland’s environmental legislation was a fragmented collection of laws at different levels, including those at EU, international and domestic. When tackling the climate crisis, the emphasis should be on accessibility, enforceability, and enforceability.
She believed that the most important principles should include recognition of interconnectedness among all life forms, ecocide at domestic as well as international levels, and the rights of the natural world once protected by Brehon Law.
Barrister Louise Beirne suggested that Ireland’s environmental law needs to be simplified and overhauled through a model code of environment, which would include all relevant laws in one document.
Aoife Sheehan, BL stated that the rights of future generations are not currently recognized. However, she felt it appropriate that an environmental NGO represent their interests if they were granted standing in a case.
Taoiseach Michel Martin opened the symposium by highlighting the need for legal frameworks, access to justice, and the need to address climate crisis from the individual and business perspectives.
This was because it was the defining challenge of our time. The EPA found that 85 percent of Irish people are concerned about its global and regional impacts. However, they also worry about environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, and deterioration in water and air quality.
He said that the Government was following a different path than the exploitative economic model in the past and was supported by the appropriate legislative structure provided by the 2021 Climate Action Plan on the journey towards real sustainability.
Martin acknowledged that it is not enough to create legislation, plans, and policies without proper implementation and enforcement. The success of any legislation, plan or policy would also depend on the support of the public for it to be implemented and enforced.
He welcomed the creation of the Climate Bar Association to increase legal expertise on climate change and environment. He said that the legal profession and the judiciary played a crucial role in ensuring environmental protection.