Access to justice

Access to justice – the so-called third pillar of the Aarhus Convention* – is widely acknowledged as being by far the weakest, least implemented part of the Convention. This is not just a problem in and of itself, but undercuts the implementation of the other two pillars, namely access to information and public participation. Where there is no legal recourse to challenge violations of these provisions, they can easily become meaningless, pure paper promises. But the access to justice pillar goes further than these two pillars – and should allow members of the public to also challenge acts and omissions by private persons and public authorities which contravene provisions of national law relating to the environment.

It is about whether NGOs or individuals can make the government live up to its promises to clean the air so that people’s health isn’t damaged; to ensure that traffic and waste don’t overwhelm cities; to ensure that polluters have to pay for the damage they caused.

*The Aarhus Convention, which was signed in 1998 and entered into force in 2001, has represented something quite incredible from its very first inception, namely an instrument linking environmental rights and human rights. The Convention is essentially built on three pillars: (1) access to information; (2) public participation in decisions on specific activities; and (3) access to justice.