Beijing court responds to 9 FAQs about environmental public interest lawsuits

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Beijing Dongcheng District People’s Court recently published nine FAQs about environmental public interest lawsuits.

Question 1 : Who can initiate a public interest lawsuit when a medical company pollutes the soil of surrounding public places by dumping large amounts of hazardous solid waste?

According to the Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court on Several Issues concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Environmental Civil Public Interest Litigation Cases (Judicial interpretation 2015-01), government agencies and relevant organizations stipulated by law may file environmental civil public interest lawsuits for acts that pollute the environment and for acts that have harmed or have a major risk of harming social and public interests.

The behavior of the medical firm has caused soil pollution in a public place, which of course has damaged social and public interests. Therefore, the above two types of subjects can file lawsuits against the medical company.

Question 2 : In the case of question 1, when can an environmental public interest lawsuit be filed?

According to Judicial interpretation 2015-01, there are two situations that meet the requirements for filing an environmental public interest lawsuit:

Situation 1, when the behavior of polluting the environment and destroying the ecosystem has caused damage and harmed the social and public interests;

Situation 2, when the above-mentioned behavior has a major risk of harming social and public interests, regardless of whether it has caused damage.

Question 3 : What are the relevant organizations mentioned in the law that can file environmental public interest lawsuits?

Foundations, non-profit organizations and other social organizations (i.e. NGOs) registered with the civil affairs department of the people’s government at or above the municipal level.

According to the relevant provisions of the Environmental Protection Law, the above-mentioned organizations must have specialized in environmental protection activities for more than five consecutive years and have never been subject to administrative or criminal penalties.

Question 4 : Under what circumstances can the people’s procuratorate file an environmental public interest lawsuit?

According to the Civil Procedure Law, if there’s no other legally mandated organization to file the lawsuit, the people’s procuratorate may, after an announcement, file it in the people’s court.

Question 5 : Which court should the lawsuit be filed in?

The people’s court at the intermediate level or above in the place where the defendant is domiciled or the place where the polluting act took place.

According to Paragraph 1 of Article 6 of Judicial interpretation 2015-01, the first instance of an environmental public interest litigation case shall be under the jurisdiction of the people’s court at or above the intermediate level in the place where the environmental pollution or destruction of the ecosystem occurred, or the place where there is resulting damage, or where the defendant lives.

Question 6 : In the case of question 1, what legal responsibilities does the medical company need to bear?

According to the plaintiff’s claims and the specific circumstances, the medical company may be ordered by the court to cease all infringements, remove all obstacles, eliminate dangers, restore the ecological environment, make a public apology, and compensate losses.

Question 7 : After the relevant agencies or social organizations file public interest lawsuits, can other victims or stakeholders still bring lawsuits against the defendant?

Yes, they can.

According to Judicial interpretation 2015-01, where an agency or social organization as prescribed by law files an environmental public interest lawsuit, it does not prevent other parties from filing their own lawsuit.

Question 8 : Where an environmental protection department has already imposed administrative penalties such as fines and orders to make corrections, can the polluters still be subject to environmental civil lawsuits and civil public interest lawsuits?

Yes, they can.

According to the Environmental Protection Law, if damage is caused by polluting the environment and destroying the ecosystem, the polluter shall bear tort liability in accordance with the relevant provisions.

Question 9 : What happens if a defendant’s assets are insufficient after a judgment and they cannot pay the required compensation for separate public interest and civil lawsuits?

According to Article 31 of Judicial interpretation 2015-01, under these circumstances where a defendant is found to be liable in environmental public interest litigation and separate civil litigation due to environmental pollution and ecological damage — and his or her property is insufficient to cover the required obligations, the penalties from the civil litigation will take priority.