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Social groups may get right for litigation

By Zhao Yinan (China Daily)

08:37, October 25, 2011

BEIJING - A draft legal amendment will enable government departments, prosecutors and civil society organizations to file lawsuits on behalf of the public when their interests are compromised.

Such an amendment, which is before the National People's Congress Standing Committee, is an attempt to provide the public more ability to supervise social affairs.

The amendment to the Civil Procedure Law would give social groups the right to file litigation if the case is related to "environmental pollution and consumer rights infringement."

Under the current law, only government agencies and people affected by an incident are allowed to sue over environmental pollution and food safety, which has "impeded many cases from being filed", said Tang Weijian, a law professor at Beijing-based Renmin University of China.

In the recent oil leak case at Bohai Bay, 11 environmental groups tried to file a lawsuit against ConocoPhillips China and China National Offshore Oil Corporation, but their request was turned down by local court.

Wang Haijun, a Beijing-based lawyer representing the 11 accusers, said the court verbally turned down his clients' requests, but never issued a written document specifying the reason why the case cannot be filed.

Some attributed the rejection to the current law's failure to empower authorities or social organizations to file lawsuits against those who violate public interests.

Chang Cheng, a program officer from Friends of Nature, a non-governmental organization, said he shares a similar feeling with Wang that to file a case on environmental pollution in China is "almost impossible" for a social group.

"Most of the lawsuits on environmental pollution are filed by prosecutors, while the rest are by local environmental protection bureaus," he said.

Chang admitted he had seen gradual improvements in his work.

The people's intermediate court in Qujing city of Southwest China's Yunnan province, where a special environment court was established in 2008, accepted a Friends of Nature case last Wednesday.

Friends of Nature, as well as the local environmental protection bureau, sued a chemical plant that is said to have illegally dumped more than 5,000 tons of highly toxic heavy metal in three townships in Qujing.

Chang said the government's initiative is "irreplaceable".

"It may cause a rush of litigations, so a judicial interpretation providing details on how this article should be applied is necessary," Wang said.

Wang Qian contributed to this story.

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