ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners have criticised a decision not to set up a designated court to deal with Scotland's environmental criminals.

The Scottish Government shelved the plan, despite the previous Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland saying such a move would send “a powerful message” to gangland and other polluters.

HeraldScotland:

Ministers said the “variety of views” on what sort of cases should be heard, combined with the “uncertainty” of the justice landscape caused by Brexit, led them to decide it was "not appropriate to set up a specialist environmental court or tribunal at present".

But the decision has been widely criticised by environmental groups.

Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, said: “This is yet another missed opportunity by the Scottish Government to bring the Scottish legal system into the 21st century on environmental rights.

“By closing the door on a specialist environmental court or tribunal, the Scottish Government demonstrates it is in continued denial of the critical important of environmental law, and the environmental rights established in international law.

“In a half-hearted consultation last year, the Scottish Government asked whether a specialist environmental court should be set up. It has now chosen to ignore the vast majority of stakeholders who adamantly said yes, and who criticised the narrow approach to environmental justice taken by the Government to date.”

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Three years ago, Mr Mulholland pushed the idea of special courts.

He said at the time: “It doesn’t need to be a shiny new building with new administrators and clerks, just order the business in a particular way to give a focus on certain days to environmental crime.”

Earlier this month a report to the UN on access to environmental justice also criticised the Scottish Government for breaching commitments to ensure that legal challenges to property, energy or other developers were not “prohibitively expensive”.

Scotland, as part of the UK, is bound by the 1998 UN Aarhus Convention on access to environmental justice. This requires governments “to remove or reduce financial barriers to access to justice”.

The convention’s compliance committee’s detailed analysis earlier this month concludes that Scotland “has not yet fulfilled” key requirements of the convention.

Jonny Hughes, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust called on ministers to rethink their decision, saying: "Over 40 different countries around the world already have an environmental court or tribunal.

"These work effectively to ensure that citizens have access to environmental justice, people are protected from the often life changing health impacts of pollution, and threatened wildlife is protected from destruction.”

In its consultation analysis, the Scottish Government accepted that a “substantial majority of the respondents favoured the introduction of an environmental court or tribunal”.

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The report added: “However, there was no clear consensus on whether such a court or tribunal should deal with criminal or civil cases, whether it should be a specialised sheriff court, a specialist tribunal, or a specialised court within the Court of Session, and within each of those jurisdictions, what types of ‘environmental’ cases should be considered.”

It said just under half of the respondents also considered that a wide ranging review of environmental justice was necessary, looking beyond the court system to encompass other means of resolving environmental disputes and also considering administrative environmental justice.