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Legal agencies keep tight leash on polluters

By Cao Yin | China Daily | Updated: 2023-06-06 08:57

Police crack down on criminals while courts improve case handling, hearings

To mark World Environment Day, which fell on Monday, China's top legal bodies said they would continue to intensify their environmental protection efforts by enforcing harsher punishments against polluters and ensuring that a growing number of professional teams work to solve cases with greater efficiency.

Last year, more than 3,100 criminal cases involving the environment were resolved by Chinese police, with 36,751 suspects accused of environmental crimes, according to data released by the Ministry of Public Security and the Supreme People's Procuratorate, China's top procuratorate, on Monday.

On the same day, the Supreme People's Court, the country's top court, also issued a report showing that Chinese courts heard 2,252 criminal cases concerning pollution and 102 relating to waste smuggling.

Courts nationwide last year solved 7,333 criminal cases of illegal hunting and fishing, with 2,775 involving endangered wildlife, the report said.

"We've always upheld the principle of green development and ensured the strictest rule of law in environmental protection," Yang Linping, vice-president of the top court, told a news conference on Monday, adding that efforts in educating professionals in handling environmental cases have also been strengthened.

As of December, China had 2,426 specialized teams to deal with environmental cases, the report said, noting "it demonstrates a system that focuses on environmental trials has been basically established, which means the professionalism of relevant case hearings has been steadily improved".

Lyu Zhongmei, an environmental law expert, lauded the move, revealing that the number of such specialized teams has increased by 12.9 percent compared with 2021, covering all key areas and river basins in the country.

As judges have improved the quality of environmental hearings and cases, Chinese prosecutors have also elevated their professionalism by setting up procuratorial offices to play a stronger role in environmental public interest lawsuits, said Lyu, who is also a deputy to the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature.

For example, prosecutors in Fujian province set up a liaison station in the provincial governor's office in a bid to enhance the supervision over forestry resources, while prosecutors from Gaoling district in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province, jointly set up a work office with the local social governance agency to solve environmental problems by helping initiate public interest litigation.

Highlighting the significance of seeking a balance between high-quality development and environmental protection, Lyu called for courts and procuratorates to further optimize the litigation process and promote public interest case handling to boost judicial synergy.

On Monday, China's ninth National Environment Day, the top court issued 10 influential environmental cases, and the top procuratorate also posted a white paper to introduce the past five years' procuratorial measures in environmental protection.

From 2018 to 2022, major crimes related to the environment were illegal fishing, illegal mining, illegal occupation of farmlands, deforestation, pollution and illegal hunting, the paper added.

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