One-stop court proposed to tackle wildlife and pollution issues

One-stop court proposed to tackle wildlife and pollution issues

The new court would be less formal than regular courts, and would be able to deal with disputes between neighbours over environmental matters, water pollution, wildlife offences, hedge cutting, or habitat destruction, at a much lower legal cost for all concerned.

A new one-stop environmental court should be established to deal with everyday issues like wildlife crime, illegal hedge cutting, and air and water pollution, a taskforce of legal experts has recommended.

The proposal, which has support within government circles, seeks to streamline environmental law issues in a manner similar to the operations of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB).

The new court would be less formal than regular courts, and would be able to deal with disputes between neighbours over environmental matters, water pollution, wildlife offences, hedge cutting, or habitat destruction, at a much lower legal cost for all concerned, the Climate Bar Association said.

Made up of environmental specialists within the legal sector, the Climate Bar Association compiled a taskforce to examine reform of environmental law, which has come under scrutiny in recent years because of its perceived weaknesses.

It has now recommended what it describes as "a multi-door environmental court".

Level playing field

Climate Bar Association chair Clíona Kimber SC told the Irish Examiner that it was about making environmental issues a level playing field for all.

“You can’t shut people out of the High Court if they want to go, because it is in the Constitution, but something like the WRC or the RTB for environmental issues would be beneficial for all.

Neighbours may not want to pursue criminal law proceedings against neighbours, but they might want something sorted out. 

"They may simply want to reach an agreement with somebody, or have a place to mediate.

“Everyone need not have to head off to the High Court, just like every sportsperson need not play in Croke Park to get a result.” 

The Climate Bar Association said it was recommending the Government "start to plan for a new environmental relations commission”.

The commission would include "specialist adjudicators, environmental principles, wide access to the court and include mediation and conciliation to solve disputes", the bar association added.

The proposal is different to a pledge included in the Programme for Government, where the coalition partners committed to the establishment of a dedicated Planning and Environmental Law List as a separate division of the High Court.

The Climate Bar Association's first-ever symposium, to be opened by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, will occur today to coincide with the release of the taskforce's recommendations and will feature 11 experts over three sessions.

According to law firm A&L Goodbody's legal guide, much of Ireland's environmental legislation comes from EU directives. Environmental legislation is principally administered and enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), local authorities throughout the country, and Ministers for Climate Action and the Environment and Housing, Planning and Local Government.

A&L Goodbody says: "The EPA and local authorities enforce environmental requirements. Enforcement is backed up by the court system with most enforcement actions requiring court sanctions, as the use of administrative sanctions remains relatively undeveloped. The Regional Fisheries Boards can also take enforcement actions through the courts."

Meanwhile, new figures show data centre consumption of electricity increased by 144% between 2015 and 2020, leading to their total electricity consumption jumping from 5% to 11% in the same period.

Leading UCC energy expert Dr Paul Deane said that the upward trajectory could increase the likelihood of outages in the future if not properly managed. 

"This means increased renewable growth to match growing demand but also increased back-up with conventional power plant to step in when it is not windy enough. 

"Both are needed as they go hand in hand with power system security."

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