Asian courts have witnessed an increasing number of environmental cases as a direct result of rapid urbanization, industrialization and related problems. These cases typically stem from deterioration of water and air quality, dumping of hazardous waste, and deforestation. Key challenges facing environmental courts include: inflexible procedures that favor polluters, limited remedies for injured parties; and weak capacity of judges and courts.
Recognizing these challenges, AECEN established the Asian Justices Forum on the Environment, a regional platform dedicated to facilitating cooperation and sharing innovative approaches between judges and courts on strengthening environmental adjudication in Asia. Partners supporting the Asian Justice Forum on the Environment include the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) and the Asia Pacific Jurists Association (APJA).
Key achievements in assisting judiciaries in Asia:
- Green Benches in Thailand. Thailand’s Supreme Court, with assistance from AECEN, has established “green benches” through cooperative engagement with counterparts from India, Australia and the U.S. The Court has developed improved policies and procedures that enable greater access to courts in resolving environmental disputes.
Thailand has established 11 green benches on the Supreme Court and at the appellate level. To date, these benches have heard over 1,000 environmental cases. Senior justices and judges from Thailand have also shared their experience with judicial counterparts in other AECEN member countries, in particular helping to promote the establishment of environmental courts in the Philippines.
- Environmental Courts in the Philippines. In 2007, with support from AECEN, the Philippine Supreme Court and the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) developed policy options for establishing new green courts and organized the Asian Justices Forum on the Environment in Manila in July 2007 to share recommendations with judges from Australia, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the US. Discussion centered on strategies for strengthening the Philippine Supreme Court’s human and institutional capacity to adjudicate environmental cases.
Subsequently, in January, 2008, the Supreme Court of the Philippines passed a binding resolution to designate 117 courts for improved environmental adjudication. These courts are now handling all types of environmental cases. The Supreme Court and the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) are also conducting focused training for environmental and appellate court personnel in the designated courts.
AECEN is continuing to facilitate dialogue among Asian judges, including strengthening capabilities in assessing and remedying damages to natural resources.