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Judicial News Posted: 2014-07-20 19:48:34

China's supreme court sets up environment cases division

     The Supreme People's Court (SPC) has set up a tribunal for environment cases to better implement the revised environmental protection law, said a court spokesman here on Thursday.

The tribunal will hear civil cases involving pollution, exploitation of natural resources and conservation of natural environment such as forests and rivers, said Sun Jungong, SPC spokesman, at a press conference.

It will also hear appeal cases forwarded from lower courts, supervise the trial of environment cases at lower courts and draft judicial explanations about such cases, Sun said.

The SPC expects that the tribunal can set the standards for trials of environment cases, better protect people's environmental rights and help fight pollution and other offenses harming the environment, he said.

About 134 special environment tribunals have been established at local courts in 16 provincial divisions since the first was founded in southwest China's Guizhou Province in 2007.

Following suit of the SPC, all provincial high courts will also set up similar institutions while city courts and lower ones can decide based on their own conditions, said Zheng Xuelin, chief judge of the tribunal, also at the press conference.

According to Zheng, environment cases have taken a very small proportion of all court cases across the country, nearly 30,000 out of more than 11 million.

Zheng admitted that it is still difficult for people to file an environment case since courts are held back by technical problems such as lack of practical standards to assess damage, and in some cases interference from local governments.

With the operation of more environment tribunals, Zheng expects the number of these cases to increase.

China's top legislature revised the environmental protection law in April, imposing much harsher punishment on polluters and heavier liability on government.

The new law allows public litigation on environmental issues and expands the range of the plaintiff, from parties directly affected by environmental damage to officially registered social organizations that engage in public litigation on environmental issues for more than five years.

China has faced an increasing number of protests, or "mass incidents", over environmental issues. Cities have seen residents take to the streets against paraxylene projects, which they believe are a major threat to the environment and public health.

Courts are considered a more rational way for people to express their concerns without triggering chaos and violence.