The Plight of the Public

For China Dialogue, lawyer Zhang Jingjing reviews four cases to evaluate what role the public plays in challenging government decisions in environmental cases:

These buzzwords represent an emerging awareness of public participation in social management and government policy-making. And the two are intimately linked. Without public participation and representation of social groups, public-interest litigation will struggle to correct government errors or address illegal administrative actions and thus meet its objective of protecting the public interest. And, without public-interest litigation, public participation lacks any means of legal redress – and risks becoming mere window-dressing.

However, when we examine actual environmental incidents and lawsuits, we often find that “the public” has only a token role, while the “public interest” may not really mean the interests of the public at all. Prosecutors, the government and government departments all rush to represent the “public interest”, but citizens and environmental groups are not allowed to bring litigation on behalf of the public or the environment.

Looking back at cases of public participation in the environmental field over the last few years will help us reach a clearer understanding of how the public participates in the Chinese environmental movement.

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