A coalition of Bulgarian organisations supported by ClientEarth has called on the European Commission to protect access to justice in the face of new proposals from the country’s ruling party.
ClientEarth lawyer Sam Bright said: “If implemented, these new rules would violate the right to a fair trial and to secure access to justice without facing prohibitive costs. They are contrary to EU environmental law, international conventions and the Bulgarian Constitution.”
The proposals to amend Bulgaria’s Administrative Procedure Code (APC) and the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) were submitted by members of the country’s ruling centre-right political party GERB this summer.
The suggested amendments would significantly limit access to justice in environmental cases and weaken the control of the courts over the environmental impacts of large-scale industrial projects.
Limiting access to justice: contrary to EU law
The proposed amendment to the APC would significantly increase the fees and costs of conducting certain administrative cases, including cases concerning environmental impact assessments (EIAs). This increase would limit the ability of citizens and organisations to appeal administrative acts in court, as they would struggle to afford the increased fee.
The proposed amendments to the EPA would impose a strict six month limit on the duration of appeals of impact assessments of large-scale infrastructure projects classified as being “of national importance”.
Collecting environmental information (such as monitoring migration patterns) required for the judicial review of EIAs, often takes longer than six months. Courts may therefore be unable to base their decisions on the latest information and will be in breach of the EIA Directive.
Projects of national importance will also be subjected to just one court review – with no possibility of appeal. Smaller projects, which are not of national importance, will then be subject to greater scrutiny than these important, large-scale projects. This is contrary to basic principles of environmental law.
Sam added: “These proposals have not been debated in public, and have not been subjected to proper scrutiny in Parliament. We have real concerns about the transparency of this process and about the ability of citizens to participate in decisions that could have significant impacts on their rights.”
A vote on the proposals is expected to take place during the plenary session of the Bulgarian Parliament in September 2017.