Białowieża case - Polish courtand

Polish Ombudsman challenges Environment Minister’s decision to log Bialowieza Forest in court

This week ClientEarth spoke in court in support of the Polish Ombudsman, in a case challenging the Polish Environment Minister’s decision to increase logging in the Bialowieza Forest. The Ombudsman, who is in charge of representing the interests of the public, protests against depriving NGOs of their right to challenge this decision in court.

The judgment, which if found in the Ombudsman’s favour, would undo unhelpful court precedents that are preventing access to justice in this case, will be announced on the 14 March 2017.

ClientEarth lawyer Agata Szafraniuk, who spoke in court, said: “The decision to increase logging in Bialowieza Forest is illegal and the government has ignored objections by environmental organisations and scientists. There was no legal avenue we could have used to challenge this in the Polish court but thanks to the Ombudsman’s intervention, this could change.

“If successful, NGOs will have power to challenge the decisions about logging limits in Bialowieza Forest and other Polish forests that constitute a quarter of the territory of the country.”

ClientEarth, together with partner NGOs, has been arguing since 2015 that increased logging in the Bialowieza Forest is illegal. It would have disastrous effects on the delicate ecosystem of the unique forest, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. ClientEarth prepared a complaint to the European Commission. An infringement procedure against the Polish government followed in June 2016.

Scientists from the top Polish and international universities have also issued several statements calling the Polish Environment Minister to reverse the decision about the increased logging. More than 160,000 Poles signed the petition for the same cause, which the Polish Government failed to either acknowledge or respond to.

That’s why the Polish Ombudsman decided to support civil society and NGOs that represent it. His aim is to reverse the decision to increase logging in the Bialowieza Forest so the Minister could take this decision again, this time in line with the law and taking into consideration voices of those who oppose the logging.

“We are glad that the Ombudsman decided to take this case to court and we joined the proceedings to support his charges. If we win, it’s a huge success for the wildlife and democracy. We look forward to the 14th of March” Szafraniuk said.

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