Access to justice for a greener Europe


Access to justice is a fundamental means through which citizens and NGOs can support the implementation and enforcement of laws and policies to protect the environment. Access to Justice for a Greener Europe focuses on raising awareness about the legal possibilities available for citizens and NGOs to help protect the environment through access to justice.

Managed by ClientEarth and Justice & Environment over eight European states, the project aims to improve the implementation and enforcement of environmental law in EU countries by making sure the public can challenge law breaking in court.

Making sure Europeans can bring environmental cases to court is the goal of the “Access to Justice for a greener Europe” (A2J EARL) project.

What is Access to Justice?

A democratic tool to protect the environment

Access to justice is a democratic tool to help protect the environment and reduce the existing gap between the law and its implementation.

Indeed while the body of EU environmental policy and regulation is one of the most advanced and comprehensive in the world, it is not providing satisfactory results and Europe’s environment is rapidly deteriorating… For example, the EU is set to miss its goal of halting biodiversity loss for 2020 – with 60% of EU protected species and 77% of EU protected habitats being in unfavourable conservation status according to a 2015 EEA report.

Strong legislative and policy frameworks are not providing the results that they should because they are not properly implemented. This is both an environmental and socio-economic problem: a 2011 estimate put the cost of poor implementation of EU environmental law at around Euros 50 billion a year. Not to mention that the lack of implementation also erodes the rule of law and public trust in national authorities and the EU.

To tackle that issue, empowered citizens, acting on their own or via NGOs, are essential to support the actions of authorities. For their action to be truly effective, they need to be able to challenge lawbreaking in court, via access to justice.

A right acknowledged in a number of legal provisions

The right to have access to justice is acknowledged in a number of legal provisions as well as case law of various judicial and quasi-judicial bodies at international and EU level.

The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, public participation in Decision-making and Access to justice in Environmental matters (Aarhus Convention) requires its parties to provide members of the public with effective access to justice in environmental matters. As of today, all 28 Member States as well as the EU itself are Parties to the Convention.

Moreover, based on this Convention, the EU has adopted a number of legal acts containing rules on access to justice at national level, such as the Environmental Information Directive, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive, Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) and the Environmental Liability Directive (ELD).

The EU has not yet issued legislation that would provide a general framework for access to justice to challenge all infringements of environmental laws. However, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that Member States are nonetheless obliged to interpret their existing national laws in line with the requirements of the Convention.

This general legal framework has been further clarified by a strong body of case-law of both the CJEU and the quasi-judicial Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC), which has provided important criteria for assessing whether access to justice provided can be considered to be truly effective.

Why improve Access to Justice?

Lack of awareness about rules on access to justice is an obstacle in practice.

Above-mentioned rules and case law should in theory guarantee that members of the public can participate in the enforcement of EU environmental laws, also using legal means if necessary. In practice, however, this is not always the case. Numerous studies, including the 2012/2013 access to justice studies (the ‘Darpö studies’) carried out on behalf of the Commission demonstrate that there are still significant hurdles to effective access to justice.

The baseline situations in the target countries vary greatly especially in terms of the number of court cases in environmental matters. However, in all the targeted countries these cases mean only a small portion of all judicial (mostly administrative) cases, ranging between less than 1% to 2-3%.

In many cases changes to the application of procedural rules that usually award judges with considerable discretion would be key to providing effective access to justice.

Even though many legal professionals may be aware of the general rules governing access to justice in environmental matters, awareness of the essential case law is considerably lower, especially among public administrations and public interest environmental lawyers.

This low level of awareness is further evidenced by the high number of referrals for preliminary rulings before the CJEU regarding the access to justice provisions of the EIA Directive as well as access to justice issues related to challenging breaches of other EU directives such as the Habitats Directive.

These referrals clearly demonstrate that there are still many questions within the judiciary and other legal professionals in different Member States, to address. There is also little awareness of best practice or of cost-effective solutions in providing effective access to justice in different Member States.

Latest newsletter


  • Court of Justice of the EU backs Brussels citizens’ right to clean air

    On 26 June 2019, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) held that citizens can challenge the lack of adequate air quality plans.

  • Internal review procedure: the General Court places further restrictions on access to justice

    In an appeal against a Commission internal review decision, the General Court has set restrictive criteria regarding the arguments that can be raised before it to challenge the act subject to internal review.

  • The Hungarian Government retreated in a landmark issue

    The new law, which follows a dangerous trend of undermining the independence of judges also seen in Poland, has been postponed “for an indefinite time”.

  • Access to justice seminars in Germany, Spain and Belgium – June 2019

    Seminars on access to justice were given in Berlin, Madrid and Brussels as part of the A2J EARL project.

  • Events

  • Challenging non-disclosure of environmental information in Europe – sign up for our webinar

    The webinar “Challenging non-disclosure of environmental information” will be held on September 26 2019 from 12.30 to- 1:30 pm GMT+1.

  • Countries

    Access to Justice for a Greener Europe targets legal professionals of the following countries


  • Interactive platform on Access to Justice

    As part of the Life Access to Justice for a Greener Europe project, we have developed an interactive platform on Access to Justice for public interest lawyers and civil servants in Estonia, Hungary and Poland.

  • Country toolkits on Access to justice

    We have launched a series of legal toolkits to assist legal professionals and organisations in eight European countries take legal action to protect the environment.

  • ClientEarth launches European legal guide to protecting the environment

    ClientEarth lawyers have launched a guide to assist legal professionals and organisations in Europe take legal action to protect the environment.

  • Image of pink petaled flower

    Case law on Access to justice rights

    This document contains relevant access to justice case law, from the Court of Justice of the EU and the General Court along with findings of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee (ACCC).

  • Project team

  • Sebastian Bechtel, Environmental Democracy Lawyer, ClientEarth

    Sebastian Bechtel

  • Image of environmental lawyer Anais Berthier

    Anaïs Berthier

  • Anne Friel, Lawyer, European Union Aarhus Centre, Environmental Lawyers ClientEarth

    Anne Friel

  • Csaba Kiss

  • Malgorzata Kwiedacz-Palosz

  • Capucine Pineau, Project Coordinator, ClientEarth

    Capucine Pineau

  • Diane Vandesmet, Events and Communications officer, ClientEarth

    Diane Vandesmet

  • Project details


    Access to Justice for a greener Europe aims to improve the implementation and enforcement of EU environmental law by providing the public with effective access to justice, such as judicial review, administrative review and complaints to other appeal bodies.

    In order to reach this long-term goal, the project aims to disseminate information, knowledge and share best practices about Access to Justice with an audience of legal professionals, judiciary, NGOs, public interest lawyers and public administration.

    It specifically emphasizes on :

    • Informing about existing rules and case-law on access to justice in environmental matters;
    • Explaining the importance of ensuring proper access to justice for the implementation of EU environmental laws and policies;
    • Highlighting specific challenges and obstacles to proper access to justice in environmental matters both at national and EU level;
    • Providing methods for overcoming legal (both substantial and procedural) challenges and obstacles to effective access to justice in the environmental field.

    Actions & Results

    This three-year project started in July 2017 involves the production of “awareness raising” materials and organization of activities such as :

    It targets legal professionals of the following member states:

    • Austria
    • Estonia
    • France
    • Germany
    • Hungary
    • Poland
    • Slovakia
    • Spain


    Coordinator: Association Justice & Environment, z.s.

    Type of organisation: NGO-Foundation

    Description: Association Justice and Environment, z.s. (J&E) is a non-profit non-governmental organisation that was founded in 2003 in the Czech Republic to ensure the effective implementation of EU environmental rules. A network, J&E has members in 11 EU Member States and one non-EU country.

    Partners / Associated beneficiary: ClientEarth


    Csaba Kiss, Justice & Environment, project manager:

    Anais Berthier, ClientEarth project lead:

    Diane Vandesmet, Communications officer: