The Supreme People’s Court of China (SPC) has rolled out a series of measures aimed at strengthening the environmental trial process. A specialised environment court was set up on July 3 to further this aim, with serving judges being reshuffled to its top positions at the end of June to prepare for its inauguration. At the opening of the court, the SPC Vice-president, Xi Xiaoming, stressed the importance of making environmental protection a priority, a statement some see as an indication that – at least at the highest levels- environmental protection will be placed before economic considerations in trial matters.
Besides the new specialist environment court, 134 specialist environment tribunals have already been established in 16 provinces. These courts hear civil, criminal and procedural matters either concurrently or separately. Relevant legislation has also been strengthened to complement the courts’ operations. The Civil Procedure Law was recently amended to include public interest litigation procedures, and is accompanied by practice directions jointly issued by the SPC and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.
The environmental protection law was also revised in April this year to widen the scope of actionable complaints and provide a more concrete legal basis for the environmental trial process. According to case statistics, the current environment case load barely reaches 30000; however, the number of actionable cases may be significantly higher since most cases are not acted upon.