Illuminated church in Sofia, Bulgaria

Bulgaria puts price tag on environmental justice

Bulgaria has passed a law today that restricts people, public institutions and NGOs’ ability to go to court for the environment. The law imposes hefty costs on individuals and NGOs wanting to appeal a judgment allowing a large industrial project to go ahead.

The new law voted in by the Bulgarian parliament applies to court cases dealing with Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) and other environmental permitting decisions. These exist to make sure infrastructure projects do not cause significant environmental harm – and these court cases are the only route to challenge such projects.

But the new law is designed to make it very hard for individuals or NGOs to bring a successful case by forcing them to pay a fee to appeal. The cost is based on the value of the project and is capped at 4,500 BGN (approx. 2,300 Euro).

ClientEarth energy lawyer Dominique Doyle said: “Passing this legislation is an affront to environmental protections laid down in law, depriving Bulgaria’s citizens of their environmental rights. Pricing individuals and NGOs out of appealing cases means the government can forge ahead with harmful projects.

“There are international and EU laws in place to ensure all individuals and environmental NGOs have full access to the courts and can oppose projects that pose significant risk to environmental and human health. Bulgaria’s new laws fly in the face of these well-established rights.”

This is the latest in a series of moves that put the rule of law in Bulgaria in question. The country has already been issued a caution over its poor access to the courts.

Regina Koleva, legal advisor to ClientEarth said: “It seems that the current changes are part of a bigger strategy of the government to restrict the access to justice for citizens guaranteed by the Constitution.”

A year ago, the government also adopted a law limiting similar environmental court cases concerning ‘projects of national importance’, to one instance, with just a six-month window to decide a case. ClientEarth and Za Zemiata (Friends of the Earth Bulgaria), supported by more than 10 other NGOs, wrote to the European Commission last year when these laws were proposed, expressing serious concern about the barriers of massive costs and lack of right to appeal put on access to justice.

At the time, no further investigation was launched, but now that the new law has been passed, the organisations will look to take further action at national and EU level.

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Alexandr Bormotin

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