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BASL webinar 41: Recent trends in environmental law 

On Saturday, 1 May, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) held a webinar from 5.30 p.m.-7 p.m. via Zoom, on the “Recent Trends in Environmental Law” in Sri Lanka. The webinar was conducted as a part of the BASL Webinar Series initiated by the Secretary of the Bar Association and the Chairman of the seminars committee to further educate and support the legal fraternity.  

The event, which was moderated by Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka (WNPS) Legal Subcommittee Head Attorney-at-Law Harindi Palkumbura, called upon a number of panellists –  President’s Counsel (PC) Dinal Phillips, Dr. Lalantha de Silva, Ravi Algama, and Prof. Camena Gunaratne. 

The webinar was primarily initiated due to Sri Lanka being not so forthcoming in legal litigation despite recent trends in environment law being a timely topic for a number of years. With widespread destruction of the environment in the island, with a grave loss of habitat, dangers to wildlife, and deforestation, it has become a pressing need to understand the development of jurisprudence and the international context, primarily with the introduction of the Paris Agreement, with Sri Lanka being one of the 195 states that adopted said agreement. 

Other countries have adopted laws, regulations, and policies in terms of climate change, and with this commitment seen worldwide, it is evident that the protection of the environment is not only a duty of the state but it is also a human right that we should strive to protect. 

Within the span of the webinar, the panellists provided a general overview of environmental law in Sri Lanka, sharing that it is constantly evolving as the environment faces new challenges every day, particularly with regards to the subject of climate change, which is an area that is continuously being studied and new information comes to light daily.

They stated that the basis of litigation with regards to reform and implementation of environmental law entails constitutional remedies, administrative law remedies, actions in delict (private nuisance, strict liability, trespass, and negligence), criminal law, i.e. environmental crimes and public nuisance, and statutory proceedings. 

A key highlight of the event was the discussion of the importance of public interest litigation. Environmental Law Ltd. – Sri Lanka’s first public law organisation on the environment founded in 1981 – Co-founder Ravi Algama shared his thoughts on the matter drawing attention to the work that civil society groups have done on behalf of the protection of the environment.

Algama commented that there is a planned effort to undermine the public interest organisations and that they are worn thin when there are planned attempts to nullify their efforts done by those whom are aware that many of such organisations functioning as environmental watchdogs are in fact voluntary organisations who draw from the resources of its impassioned membership. “It is evident from this repeated regulation of environmentally destructive activities,” he said. 

With regards to the growth of public interest litigation in Sri Lanka, he shared that there was an explosion of public interest litigation matters during the time of Justice Sarath de Silva, where the public trust doctrine was brought forth, as a result of which Sri Lanka saw significant reversals of decisions giving way to the upholding the rule of law, transparency, and accountability in the exercise of executive power by the state. 

Most importantly, Algama pointed out that our Constitution does not provide for public interest litigation, however our courts have, from time to time, expanded the “rules of standing”, influenced largely by the contemporary developments in the Indian jurisdiction in the recognition of the importance of public interest litigation. He said that at present, we see the judiciary recognising and developing the sphere of public interest litigation in a context where the court is not mandated by the Constitution to entertain such applications. 

 

The webinar is available on the link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtmKeT1zqxvWPGCR0I-6hiQ