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Though China boasts 130 environmental judicial tribunals and collegiate benches, half of the worldwide total, relatively few environmental cases ever make it to trial, China Youth Daily reported on Wednesday.
One example cited is that of the environmental protection judicial tribunals under Kunming Intermediate People's Court in Yunnan province, one of the first such tribunals in China. The tribunal has tried fewer than 100 cases since its founding in late 2008, while the court's intellectual property tribunal tried more than 800 cases just last year, according to the report.
Sun Youhai, head of the China Institute of Applied Jurisprudence of the Supreme People's Court, said at a forum on environmental judicature that more than 300,000 impeaching letter cases related to environmental issues were registered from 2006 to 2010, but that less than 1 percent resulted in court cases.
Yuan Xuehong, vice-president of Kunming Intermediate People's Court, gave two possible reasons for the disparity.
The first is that many cases are "solved by administrative penalty, administrative or civil mediation", meaning that no court case is necessary.
Second, said Yuan, is the high cost of litigation in environmental cases, which require a high degree of specialized knowledge and expertise.
"It's usually hard for the victims to present evidence," Yuan said.
He said the latter issue was compounded by a lack of clarity on the meaning of some environmental legislation, making it difficult for lawyers and judges to rule on the guilt of any party.