We are witnessing catastrophic declines in plants and animals and there is ever more evidence that we are pushing the planet beyond safe limits. There has never been a greater need for a strong legal basis to halt biodiversity loss and achieve improved animal welfare. In the absence of a written UK constitution, the right to a clean and healthy environment for current and future generations, and nature itself, should be at the heart of a new Environment Act – Brexit or not. This will require the Governments of the UK to set ambitious targets to restore habitats and recover species and ecosystems to a favourable, self-sustaining status within the national and international context. It will also require the imposition of duties on public bodies to respect fundamental environment principles and to empower civil society to defend wildlife through strong environmental rights. This includes the right to environmental information (the right to know), the right to engage in decisions affecting the environment (the right to participate) and, ultimately, the right to take legal action against those whose decisions and activities threaten the environment (the right to challenge). While these rights should be fundamental, they must not replace the Government’s responsibility to enforce environmental law. The European Commission currently plays a crucial enforcement role and this function must be replicated, and reinforced, if we are to leave the EU. We need a new Watchdog empowered and resourced to investigate complaints from the public and take legal action in its own right on an informed, scientific basis. That Watchdog must also enjoy the power to refer cases to court and not be vulnerable to dissolution in the face of unpalatable action against the State. The rule of the law is the foundation of democracy but to serve the needs of the environment, the judicial system needs an overhaul. There are approximately 1,500 environmental courts and tribunals operating in 44 countries world-wide delivering effective and cost-efficient environmental  justice. There is no such court in the UK. We need a bespoke environmental forum to hear civil and criminal cases staffed by judges and technical advisers with a robust understanding of environmental issues. Judicial Review, the process through which the actions of public bodies are scrutinised, should be more concerned with the merits of a decision than purely the process by which a decision was made. People should not have to face crippling legal costs to bring public interest cases to court but, on the other hand, the courts should be able to impose dissuasive penalties (financial and otherwise) proportionate to the environmental impact of the offence committed. Habitats must be restored, individuals should be held accountable for the acts of the businesses from which they profit and responsibility must bite on those who turn a blind eye to crime on their behalf.

CAROL DAY, SOLICITOR