Chinese supreme court judges at ClientEarth

Strengthening Environmental Rule of Law in China: ClientEarth welcomes Chinese Supreme Court Judges

ClientEarth has organized a nine-person delegation of China Supreme Court judges visiting the UK and Sweden, as part of a wider series of cooperation activities to strengthen environmental rule of law in China.

In October, the judges were received in the UK at the highest level. They held meetings with the UK Supreme Court, the Environment Agency, 39 Essex Chambers, and UKELA, and enjoyed a full day of lectures at Oxford Martin School.

Delegation of Chinese judges at the Smith School

The visit to Sweden was similarly successful, there they met with the Superior Court of Land and Environment, Sweden Environmental Protection Agency, and Froberg & Lundholm, a specialised environmental law firm.

Upon returning to China, the judges are now preparing a detailed report with recommendations for the upcoming ‘judicial interpretations’.

A new environmental tribunal in China

In June 2014, China’s top court established an environmental tribunal with specialised judges. It performs many key functions, such as hearing cases, reviewing and retrying environmental cases of lower courts, and providing guidance to lower courts.

Importantly, it is also responsible for drafting ‘judicial interpretations’ – legally binding instructions to courts all over China, which explain how the law should be interpreted in practice.

In the past two years, the tribunal has focused on research in environmental adjudication and improving the legal system.

Chinese Judges conversing with ClientEarth CEO James Thornton
It issued two judicial interpretations – one on environmental tort cases (where one party inflicts harm on another), and one on ‘public interest litigation’ (where a polluter damages the public interest, by causing damage to a community and/or the environment.

The environmental tribunal is now working on several other judicial interpretations, including on mining rights, forestry rights, and soil contamination, and it is preparing additional interpretations on environmental tort and public interest litigation.

Environmental Rule of Law in China: Enhancing environmental protection

In 2016, ClientEarth and the China Supreme People’s Court started a series of cooperation activities to strengthen environmental rule of law in China.

In June 2016, we jointly held a seminar and training in Beijing. The events were attended by Zhou Qiang, President of the Supreme People’s Court, and Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate change envoy. The seminar was the first event held jointly with a foreign NGO on the premises of the SPC. Attendees also included top international and Chinese experts in environmental and climate law including judges and officials from the US and UK environment agencies, as well as James Thornton of ClientEarth. Over 200 environmental judges from all over China took part in the training. At the event, the SPC announced a pro-active stance on climate change, and the judges were instructed to take the environment and climate change into account in their rulings.


James Thornton, CEO at ClientEarth, said: “Exchanges such as this are tremendously positive and offer enormous benefits. The Supreme People’s Court is the only top court in the world to have a specialised environmental tribunal. These environmental judges are very progressive in their thinking, and they are very influential in shaping the system of environmental rule of law in China. Taking them to the UK and Sweden provides a remarkable opportunity to share knowledge and ideas for the strengthening of environmental law both in China and across the globe.”

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