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The Aarhus Convention

Conference on Access to Justice in Environmental Matters

Organised by the European Commission (Directorate-General for the Environment)

"The Aarhus Convention: how are its access to justice provisions being implemented ?"

Brussels, Belgium, 2nd June 2008

Webstreaming material and presentations held at the conference are available here.

It is our pleasure to draw your attention to the conference on "The Aarhus Convention: how are its access to justice provisions being implemented?" organised by the European Commission in Brussels on 2nd June 2008 .

Access to justice in environmental matters is a topic of actual relevance and importance, which is shown by the developments that have taken place at international level, in particular with the adoption and entry into force of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.

As an aid to its policy making on the subject, the Commission has undertaken a stock taking exercise of the implementation by the Member States of certain provisions of the access to justice pillar of the Aarhus Convention. A study has been conducted and the related final reports have become available in September 2007. Member States and civil society have been invited to comment this study. The Commission is now organising a conference with the aim to complete this stock taking exercise and collect relevant information on access to justice with a view to assist the Commission in its policy making on the subject.

The basic aim of the Conference would be to define the state of play and the possible future steps to be taken with respect to the implementation of Article 9(3), (4) and (5) of the Aarhus Convention in the Member States.

Article 9 of the Convention deals with access to justice. Whereas its paragraphs 1 and 2 concern more specifically access to justice with respect to access to environmental information and public participation in the decision-making procedures of certain specific activities, paragraph 3 thereof addresses access to justice in general. It aims to ensure that, where they meet the criteria, if any, laid down in national law, members of the public have access to administrative or judicial procedures to challenge acts and omissions by private persons and public authorities which contravene provisions of its national law relating to the environment.

In relation with the characteristics of the procedure (whether administrative or judicial) granted to challenge acts or omissions, Article 9(4) of the Convention requires that:

  • It is adequate and provides for effective remedies, including injunctive relief;
  • It is fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive; and
  • The decisions are recorded in writing and publicly accessible.

Article 9(5) of the Convention requires that Parties ensure information is provided to the public on access to administrative and judicial review procedures and that they consider the establishment of appropriate assistance mechanisms to remove or reduce financial and other barriers to access to justice.

In order to obtain a comprehensive overview of the different measures adopted or in place in the Member States to implement Article 9(3) of the Aarhus Convention and related provisions, the Commission contracted a consultant to prepare a study focusing on the measures in place in Member States allowing members of the public to contest actions or omissions by public authorities.

The study was carried out within a six-month period (February – August 2007). During this period, 25 country reports were elaborated by (private) national legal experts (all Member States except Bulgaria and Romania , which had not yet joined the Community when the study was initiated). These country reports describe the systems in place in the different Member States to challenge acts and omissions by public authorities in accordance with Article 9(3) of the Aarhus Convention and related provisions. The analysis provided in the country reports is based on legislation and case-law available in July 2007. A summary report was then prepared on the basis of the 25 country reports. The final reports of this study have become available in September 2007.

The Commission has requested the Member States concerned and other stakeholders to issue their comments and opinions concerning possible inaccuracies in the reports, as well as any relevant developments – either recent ones or any to be expected in the near future – with the aim to draw an objective picture on the implementation status of the access to justice pillar of the Aarhus Convention. The comments and opinions that have arrived until now are displayed on the Commission's website.

The Member States, Community institutions, NGO representatives and other stakeholders and civil society organisations as well as members of the public are now invited to participate in the above-mentioned conference in order to take stock of and discuss the present state of play with respect to access to justice at Member States' level, as well as possible next steps and initiatives in this respect.

The Commission intends to invite representatives from various Members States so that they can comment and react to the findings of the above-mentioned study. According to the study, the implementation status of the access to justice' provisions of the Aarhus Convention differs widely among Member States; the study classifies Member States in four categories ('good', 'satisfactory', 'could be better', 'unsatisfactory' - see Summary report page 17). The Commission would like to have speakers at the conference representing each of the four groups in order to get a complete picture of the issue. Community institutions, NGO representatives, international judges' associations and other stakeholders would also be invited to comment the study.

Next to this stock-taking exercise, part of the conference should be devoted to discuss the future of access to justice in environmental matters, that is, possible steps, actions and initiatives whose taking could be considered as relevant as part of the implementation of the relevant provisions of the access to justice pillar of the Aarhus Convention.

For further questions on the above please do not hesitate to contact the European Commission, DG Environment:

European Commission
DG Environment
Communication & Governance unit
Fax : + 32 (0)2 298.63.27