"In China, developing environmental law is really quite hard, and successfully operating a public interest law firm is even harder. To do so one needs the utmost courage and willpower; one needs an iron determination. Only then can one really advance the cause and make the flower that is environmental protection bloom into something magnificent."
March 25, 2011, at the opening ceremony for the Beijing Huanzhu Law firm, China University of Political Science and Law professor and director of the Center for Legal Aid for Pollution Victims (CLAPV), Wang Canfa, said the following:
“Ive waited ten whole years to bring this aspiration to light. Ten years ago, I founded the Center for legal aid for pollution victims, hoping to achieve something in the realm of environmental law. But without public interest lawyers handling environmental cases it was really too difficult. At the time, the classification of public interest law firm didnt exist. We needed to found an exclusively environmental law firm to support the whole operation. With a great deal of hard work, we founded this firm. Within this framework, lawyers will provide legal services for the good of the public. This has been the course of our public interest litigation breakthrough.”
With the support of CLAPV, the law firm was founded by three public interest lawyers and long-term CLAPV volunteers. Their objective was to provide legal aid and bring claims for environmental justice and establish precedent, which could form a foundation on which to advance legal research, discussion and exchange in the area of environmental law. They also sought to foster professional environmental lawyers of high quality, to promote improvement in the area of environmental law, and bring about environmental justice. The team is composed of full-time public interest lawyers and part-time volunteers.
Besides providing pollution victims and environmental NGOs with free legal advice and participating in litigation, the firm also seeks to educate the public on environmental rights to improve the publics understanding and awareness of environmental law. In this process, they may also take on related responsibilities, assisting in research or planning drafts for environmental legislation, enforcement and adjudication.
At the opening ceremony, a member of the Law and Policy Department of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Wang Suli, pointed out, Chinas environmental problems are fairly serious. The public needs to protect their rights and interests through litigation, but professional lawyers are needed to successfully protect the environmental rights of pollution victims. Often times, the victims cannot clearly express even the most rudimentary claims. This shapes lawyers participation in an important way.
Wang Jin, Peking University Professor and director of the All China Lawyers Association Environment and Resources Committee, said this is an important moment for the field of environmental law in China. At present, law firms that make environmental protection and public interest their sole mission are almost non-existent. This is the first and so we should support it vigorously. Moreover, the pressure to undertake environmental protection work is ever increasing, and Chinese environmental lawyers bear a heavy burden. Environmental lawyers still lag behind the overall development in the legal profession in China, and in particular, with regard to environmental pollution cases, the road ahead is very long.
He also pointed out a concern he has. This undertaking involves a large disadvantaged group, the stability of the government, along with environmental conflicts, all interwoven together. He hopes they can protect themselves and still achieve this important advancement.
One of the firm’s partners, Zhang Jingjing, explained how a public interest firm manages financially. According to her, funds come from a number of sources including foundations, public interest groups, and ardent environmentalists, as well as winning compensation for the victims and placing lawyers fees on the opposition.
Zhang Jingjing spent the whole of her speech choking back tears. She said, for the past eleven years, she hasnt been able to forget the bleak autumn afternoon when she became CLAPVs very first student volunteer. She recalls countless scorching summer days spent with the team searching for the source of some pollutant, and she experienced numerous debates in court. The longer she did such work, the more deeply she believed that they needed a specialized team of professionals to do so. And finally, they overcame financial and government-related challenges and they built just such a team.
"Our greatest desire is to be able to express the voice of Chinese lawyers on the international stage. In order to protect the environment and impartial rights, we hope the government wont oppose our work. We hope professional lawyers committees will provide us with support and aid so that we can promote progress in the area of environmental law."