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Excellent presentation and discussion on ‘How Effective is Environmental Regulation?’ This week at the Law Society, hosted by Castle Debates with the support of UKELA.
Presenters included Professor Bob Lee, Director of the Centre for Legal Education and Research at the University of Birmingham, who gave a conceptual answer to the question; Professor Maria Lee, Professor of Law at UCL, who concluded that to be effective, regulation has to be enhanced by scrutiny and a politically and legally supported institutional framework of individuals and NGOs; and Peter Kellett, Legal Director at the Environment Agency, who spoke in defence of good, solid regulation which he argues is vital for addressing environmental emergencies.
After the presentation, the floor was opened to questions and lively debate. Will the Environment Agency operate a ‘lighter touch’ in terms of enforcement post-Brexit? Peter Kellett considers that the enforcement approach of the EA is unlikely to change, but emphasised the importance of spending available funds well, and ‘in the right places’.
It was universally agreed that a cultural shift in attitude is needed, but that this has to be supported by sound environmental laws and competent institutions.
Will there be any compensation for loss of environmental enforcement through the ECJ and the European Commission? The question of fines was discussed, with the majority of the panel being against the increased use of fines. The need to maintain the current level of enforcement and scrutinise government was generally agreed.
One member of the audience asked how far environmental regulation is driven by trade requirements? Another, whether the time is ripe for an overhaul of environmental regulation? The general consensus of opinion, in response to the latter question, is that after 3 years of Brexit-related graft, the environmental sector is exhausted. Time would be best spent now look at specifics for addressing the climate emergency rather than looking at environmental law in its entirety. Stanley Johnson, father of the current PM, added that for a government with a majority of only 80, this may not be a good time for an overhaul of legislation and maybe what we have is better than what might be?!
Professor Lee asked if it is regrettable that the majority of advances in environmental law have been made at government level, rather than in the courts? Peter Kellett countered this stating that surely good, transparent law is better to rely on than the luck of a single piece of litigation?
Finally, panel members refused to be drawn on which is the most ineffective piece of environmental legislation we have, (although it was mooted that the lists of nuisance in Part III of the EPA 1990 have scarcely changed since the 1800s!)
How do people get involved in the process of regulation? How do we educate and involve populations in the effectiveness of environmental regulation? Professor Lee concluded that now is the time to make environmental regulation in the UK more understandable and comprehensible for all.
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