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Important that public interest cases are free

China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-06 07:40

Important that public interest cases are free

China has been watched closely by foreign job applicants in recent years due to the rapid development of its economy and its openness to overseas talent, but air pollution has hurt the recruitment. Guo Junfeng / For China Daily

A TOTAL OF 493 middle school pupils in Changzhou Foreign Languages School were found to have health problems last March, and experts said that it might have much to do with pollution from chemical plants. China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Fund, a national NGO, filed a public interest lawsuit against three enterprises that were suspected of being the source of the pollution. However, it lost the case, and was ordered to pay 1.89 million yuan ($275,350) in legal costs. Beijing News comments:

The organization said it will appeal to a higher court. However, the court expenses of 1.89 million yuan that it has to pay are a heavy burden. Media reports say it soliciting donations in order to pay the costs, and if it fails to get enough donations, it will have to abandon its plan to appeal.

That might set a bad example for other NGOs nationwide because it will discourage them from filing public interest lawsuits. If other courts follow this example and charge prohibitively expensive legal costs, other social organizations might not be able to afford such public interest litigation, and their legal right to bring such public interest cases to court might become illusive.

If that happens who will be able to stand up to protect the environment? Polluting enterprises will just get away with their criminal activities.

Actually, some local judiciaries have been encouraging social organizations to raise public interest litigation free of charge. For example, in Kunming in Southwest China's Yunnan province, the local court and procuratorate have made it clear since November 2010 that social organizations do not need to pay the legal costs if they fail in public interest litigation, but the polluting enterprises have to pay if they lose a case. That is also the case in Hainan province.

We hope the judiciary nationwide will follow the example of Kunming, not Changzhou, so as to better protect people's environmental rights.

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