China's top court is considering including more professionals with backgrounds in law and the environment, as well as related training, after it set up tribunals specializing in hearing environmental disputes.
The Supreme People's Court issued a guideline on improving trials involving the environment and resources on July 3, requiring courts, especially in places with complex ecological systems or along basins, to boost judicial groups responsible for environmental cases.
"We must select those who are not only familiar with the law but also with environmental knowledge to enrich our trial team," said Zheng Xuelin, chief judge of the top court's environment and resource department, which was established in June.
Under the guideline, each court can recruit people with environmental
expertise or experience and is asked to emphasize training, according to Zheng.
"Only when our judicial team is professional can the quality of our environmental trials be improved," he said. Ma Zhong, director of the school of environment and natural resources at Renmin University of China, agreed and said the number of judges who have studied the revised Environmental Protection Law, which was passed in April, is small.
"Some environmental disputes are identified as civil, while some are criminal and administrative, which raises higher requirements for judges," Ma said.
"The establishment of the tribunal is necessary to hear such complex cases, but judges in the special court should also learn from each other and update their knowledge."
He suggested that the courts learn from the experience of the United States and Europe, adding that further studies by environmental judges is the key to making trials more professional.
Training and study programs for judges involved with environmental trials have been gradually developed. In June, about 120 judges were trained to tackle environmental cases amid increasing concerns over pollution and the need to protect public interests.
The training focused on the new Environmental Protection Law. Such weeklong courses will be continued and are expected to be completed this year.
All of those trained have at least nine years' experience, with two-thirds of them from the higher courts at the provincial level, including Shaanxi province and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, said Li Junbo, an organizer of the training sessions. Shaanxi and Guangxi are rich in natural resources but lacking in courts that can adequately handle environmental cases, Li said.
The training introduced best practices from European countries such as Germany for dealing with lawsuits involving pollution and other ecological damage, and it combined these cases with Chinese ones, said Douglas Whitehead, the manager in charge of the training project.
Wang Canfa, an environmental law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, said understanding such technical terms in the law and other specialized knowledge like chemical reactions linked to pollution are a big problem for the judges.
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