EJNI: EU will continue to breach international law if access to justice obstacles remain

30 March 2021 

The European Union will remain in breach of international law if access to justice obstacles are not removed, the Environmental Justice Network of Ireland (EJNI) has warned. 

The organisation is one of many taking part in a bloc-wide coordinated effort today to raise awareness around access to environmental justice and how the Aarhus Regulation, which governs the issue, can be reformed.  

“At the moment, the EU courts are almost entirely closed to people and NGOs seeking to protect the environment – but very open for industry,” ClientEarth lawyer Anne Friel said. 

“This is unfair and particularly worrying as more than ever we need to empower people to enforce our laws and protect our planet,” she added. 

The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee has also found there to be a gaping accountability gap within the EU to the Aarhus Convention. 

In January 2021, the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee found that current proposals to amend the regulation fall well short of what is required for the EU to meet its compliance obligations under international law. 

“It also means the EU’s credibility as a champion of the rule of law is in serious doubt. This is a case of ‘do as I say but not as I do,’”, EJNI said. 

Upcoming revisions vote 

The European Parliament’s ENVI Committee (Committee of the Enviornment, Public Health and Food Safety) is set to vote on proposed revisions to the EU Aarhus Regulation on 15 April.

The move represents a “key step” towards giving ordinary people and environmental NGOs the same right to challenge its decisions as corporations and member states, according to EJNI. 

When it comes to access to justice rights, EU citizens are currently being “short-changed,” EJNI Director Dr. Ciara Brennan warned. 

“The EU needs to start applying the accountability standards it imposes on member states to its own institutions to avoid justified accusations of double standards and uphold its reputation as a beacon of good environmental governance,” she said. 

Last August the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee released draft findings that concluded Ireland’s appeal process and Court review for Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) requests were failing to comply with international law. 

The Committee found that Ireland failed to conduct these duties in a “timely manner” that is necessary to meet with the standard required under the Convention’s requirement on access to justice. 

The AIE system is independent from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, and the two differ substantially as AIE is underpinned by both EU law and the Aarhus Convention, while FOI operates only under national law. 

Photo via Creative Commons.

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Kayle Crosson