Lawyers call for international court for the environment
A former chairman of the Bar Council is calling for an international court for the environment to punish states that fail to protect wildlife and prevent climate change.
By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:19PM GMT 01 Dec 2008
Previous1 of 2 ImagesNext Stephen Hockman QC said an international court will be needed to enforce any binding climate change agreement Photo: EDDIE MULHOLLAND
The proposed court would be similar to the International Court of Justice in The Hague
Stephen Hockman QC is proposing a body similar to the International Court of Justice in The Hague to be the supreme legal authority on issues regarding the environment.
The first role of the new body would be to enforce international agreements on cutting greenhouse gas emissions set to be agreed next year.
But the court would also fine countries or companies that fail to protect endangered species or degrade the natural environment and enforce the "right to a healthy environment".
The innovative idea is being presented to an audience of politicians, scientists and public figures for the first time at a symposium at the British Library.
Mr Hockman, a deputy High Court judge, said that the threat of climate change means it is more important than ever for the law to protect the environment.
The UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland this month is set to begin negotiations that will lead to a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen next year. Developed countries are expected to commit to cutting emissions drastically, while developing countries agree to halt deforestation.
Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, has agreed the concept of an international court will be taken into account when considering how to make these international agreements on climate change binding. The court is also backed by a number of MPs, climate change experts and public figures including the actress Judi Dench.
Mr Hockman said an international court will be needed to enforce and regulate any agreement.
"The time is now ripe to set this up and get it going," he said. "Its remit will be overall climate change and the need for better regulation of carbon emissions but at the same time the implementation and enforcement of international environmental agreements and instruments."
As well as providing resolution between states, the court will also be useful for multinational businesses in ensuring environmental laws are kept to in every country.
The court would include a convention on the right to a healthy environment and provide a higher body for individuals or non-governmental organisations to protest against an environmental injustice.
Mr Hockman said the court may be able to fine businesses or states but its main role will be in making "declaratory rulings" that influence and embarrass countries into upholding the law.
He said: "Of course regulations and sanctions alone cannot deliver a global solution to problems of climate change, but without such components the incentive for individual countries to address those problems – and to achieve solutions that are politically acceptable within their own jurisdictions – will be much reduced."
The court would be led by retired judges, climate change experts and public figures. It would include a scientific body to consider evidence and provide access to any data on the environment.
Most importantly, Mr Hockman said an international court on the environment would influence public opinion which in turn would force Governments to take the environment seriously. He said: "If there are bodies around that can give definitive legal rulings that are accepted as fair and reasonable that has its own impact on public opinion."
Friends of the Earth welcomed the idea.
A spokesman said: "We think any institution that is going to promote and help people enforce their right to a clean and healthy environment is a good thing."