Multiple Measures to Strengthen the Trial of Marine Environmental Protection Cases
Recently, a collegial bench teamed up by 3 judges from the Admiralty Division of Haikou Maritime Court and 4 people’s assessors held remote discussions over 4 public interest marine environmental litigations arising from illegal sand mining. As the collegial bench reached a consensus and announced judgments, Haikou Maritime Court made a solemn vow on this World Environment Day to guard the blue sea of the motherland.
In recent years, the court has been actively performing its judicial duties by implementing the Xi Jinping Thought on promoting ecological progress, and serving the construction of Hainan Free Trade Port and the national environmental conservation pilot zone with high-standard and high-quality services. By focusing on the trial of marine environmental protection cases, the court has achieved positive results in trial, with two cases selected as the ten typical environment and resources related cases handled by people’s courts in 2019, one of which was among the ten environmental public interest cases of 2019.
Multiple measures taken by the court included:
First, encourage property preservation to urge the infringing party to respond to action.
In public interest environmental litigations, it is often the case that the defendants who commit infringement are reluctant to respond to action. Worse still, the service of court documents often fails. All these have retarded the trial process. To address the situation, our judges would encourage prosecutors that initiated the public interest litigation to turn to property preservation, by which the defendants would have no choice but to respond to action. So far this year, the court has preserved the properties of 5 defendants in three cases, arrested 3 ships, sealed 1 house, and frozen a dozen of bank accounts. Property preservation often gets instant results. In the said cases, the 5 defendants changed their passive attitude quickly and responded to action actively. And two of them even pledged a one-million yuan cash guarantee.
Second, promote mediation to resolve disputes which involve other cases.
In several civil public interest environmental litigations handled by the court this year, the infringing parties were held liable for both civil and criminal liabilities. To encourage the resolution of disputes by means of mediation, a synergy of criminal cases and civil cases, once handled separately, was created, i.e. civil compensation would be taken into account when the procuratorate considered a criminal punishment on the same defendants. So far this year, the court has resolved 5 civil public interest cases by means of mediation, with a successful mediation rate of 50%, and more than 1.79 million yuan have been paid in advance upon the signing of settlement agreements, and 100% fully paid afterwards. Resolving public interest environmental litigations by means of mediation is a win-win solution. It lowers the parties’ litigation costs, and while the infringing parties are willing to make advanced payment before the mediation agreements take effect, it also ensures successful performance of the agreements and avoids the huge judicial costs and great uncertainties that may arise from compulsory enforcement.
Third, overcome the negative impact of COVID-19 and advance the trial process.
When the court was handling these civil public interest environmental litigation cases, the world was busy combating the coronavirus. Mails were stumbled and direct service was difficult. Many corporate defendants did not resume operation, and a few natural person defendants were still in detention or in jail, which made visit and service impossible. The trial of case was interrupted. To overcome these difficulties, our trial team tried all means to search on the internet for the contact details of such companies and to serve by means of email, WeChat and phone calls. On the other hand, the team also tried to serve court documents with the assistance of the detention houses, prisons and relevant courts. By working with the relevant courts, remote interrogation was initiated to bring the prisoner defendants to appear in court. By June 5, out of the 10 civil public interest environmental litigation cases accepted this year, except for 1 case involving service of announcement only and 5 mediation cases in the process of disclosure, the court has concluded all the other 4 cases.
Fourth, introduce new method to calculate damages and lower litigation costs.
The calculation of damages has long been a tricky issue in the trial of civil public interest environmental litigation cases. In judicial practice, judicial appraisal is generally the first resort. However, judicial appraisal organs are not immediately available, and they often charge a lot and also take a long time to make an appraisal. Among the 10 environmental civil public interest cases accepted this year, 8 cases did not invite judicial appraisal, but only relied on expert opinions in the calculation of damages. The situation brought quite a large challenge to the trial of case. However, after accepting a case, our collegial bench would respond quickly to discuss and study the relevant laws and regulations as well as precedents, consult abundant materials on marine ecology, marine fisheries and marine geology, and finally prepare an enquiry list based on the expert opinions. Before the court session, four experts were invited to have full discussions with the collegial bench and the parties in respect of the potential damage caused by the infringement acts in question, the method to repair such damage, as well as the repair costs. In this way, the infringing parties were more likely to accept the expert opinions, by which the collegial bench was able to determine whether to take these expert opinions or not.