News and Events

Spotlighting Research: Part One – Access to Environmental Justice in the EU

10 Sep 2020

In this new series, we will spotlight exciting and impactful research currently being undertaken at the UCC School of Law. We will also showcase the researchers themselves – academic staff at the School, who produce cutting-edge legal scholarship independently or through our research centres.

Launching the series, Professor Maria Cahill, Director of Research at the School of Law, said:

“We are delighted to launch this series which will spotlight the academic publications of colleagues at the School of Law, showcasing the intellectual contribution they make to the academy and the wider impact that those ideas can have in the community. Each feature will focus on an individual publication, presenting the ideas therein in accessible and engaging ways. Consider this series as a kind of intellectual tasting menu, and enjoy!”

Welcoming the new series, Professor Mark Poustie, Dean of the School of Law said:

"I am delighted to support the exciting research spotlight initiative.  It is vitally important that we better communicate our research and its impact so that both the academic and wider communities can see its value and influence.  This initiative is a significant step in that direction".

Part One of the series shines the spotlight on Dr Áine Ryall, and her research on access to environmental justice. We interviewed Dr Ryall about her forthcoming chapter in a new book on dispute resolution (details below), which is due to be published at the end of this year.

Á Ryall, ‘Regulating the Cost of Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in the Member States of the European Union’ in Maria Moscati, Michael Palmer and Marian Roberts (eds.) Comparative Dispute Resolution (Edward Elgar, forthcoming December 2020)

What is this chapter about?

The chapter is a contribution to an international collection of essays on dispute resolution.  The discourse is set in a broad comparative perspective.  It examines the evolution of the legal principles governing access to justice in environmental matters in the European Union (EU).  

The right of access to justice is well-established at both the national and supra-national level. Experience has shown, however, that it is difficult to implement this right effectively in practice.  There is often a sharp tension between demands for wider access to justice on the one hand, and the level of resources that Governments are willing to commit to facilitating such access on the other.

The high cost of litigation, in particular, has proven to be a stubborn obstacle in the way of individuals, community groups and NGOs who seek to enforce environmental law. 

The analysis presented here explores how the Court of Justice of the European Union has gradually elaborated minimum standards for access to environmental justice.  It tracks how the Court has strengthened the right of affordable access to the courts by interpreting the underlying principles in a robust and purposive fashion.  This approach has served to give the relevant principles a much sharper edge.

In the absence of affordable and effective access to the courts, the impact of environmental laws is reduced significantly. The result is that air quality, water quality, nature protection, proper planning and sustainable development are all put at risk, to the detriment of the environment and human health.

There is a lot at stake here. As we face ever more serious environmental challenges, including climate change and devastating loss of biodiversity, the rule of (environmental) law becomes more important than ever.  The cost of litigation must be regulated effectively to enable the public to engage judicial oversight to protect the environment where necessary. 

Where did the idea to write it come from?

I was approached by Professor Michael Palmer (emeritus Professor at SOAS) who invited me to contribute a chapter based on my environmental law scholarship.  I took Michael’s ground-breaking seminars in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) while I was studying for my LLM at LSE.  These seminars inspired my interest in access to justice and dispute resolution processes. 

Access to environmental justice is a long-standing theme in my research and teaching.  I’m also involved intensively in environmental dispute resolution in my role as Vice-Chair of the UN ECE Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee.  This Committee, which operates out of the United Nations Office in Geneva, oversees implementation of environmental human rights across the 47 States that are Parties to the Convention.

I was delighted to be invited to contribute to the Comparative Dispute Resolution collection.  The editors’ focus on dispute resolution processes, and the strong comparative setting, meant that I could draw on my expertise in EU law and also present insights from my work with the Compliance Committee.  

A significant part of the Compliance Committee’s work involves interpreting the obligations set down in the Aarhus Convention, including access to justice obligations, and determining whether States are complying with these obligations. 

It is fascinating to see the diversity of approaches to environmental rights across 47 different legal systems and how this impacts on the development of principles.  I have written about this aspect of the Committee’s work elsewhere (e.g. Á Ryall, ‘The Aarhus Convention: Standards for Access to Justice in Environmental Matters’ in S Turner et al (eds) Environmental Rights: The Development of Standards (Cambridge University Press, 2019)).

Who did you write it for?

This particular chapter is aimed at a wide international audience, including academics, practitioners, judges, regulators, NGOs and, of course, students with an interest in environmental justice. 

It can be challenging to present the principles emerging from the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the EU in an accessible manner.  This line of jurisprudence tends to be highly complex.  It continues to evolve in a rather piece-meal fashion as new points of dispute arise for the Court’s consideration and the Aarhus-based principles are refined.  This body of law is very much a moving target.    

How does this tie to other themes in your research?

A considerable portion of my current research explores different aspects of environmental justice.  Given my role with the Compliance Committee, I have a strong interest in the implementation and enforcement of the Aarhus Convention.

As some States attempt to backslide on environmental human rights in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the push for a rapid phase of economic recovery, the rights conferred by the Aarhus Convention take on even greater significance. (See further UNECE’s press release regarding the Compliance Committee statement on the application of the Aarhus Convention adopted on 2 September 2020).  


What will you be doing next?

Right now I am working with a practitioner colleague, Gregory Jones QC, to finalise the manuscript for an edited collection that we will be submitting to Hart Publishing shortly.  The Aarhus Convention: A Coming of Age? is a collection based on the papers presented at an international conference Greg and I convened at Centre of European Law, King’s College London in June 2019. 

This collection reflects on the Convention’s impact across a number of key themes including: its role in the legal and political order; its jurisdictional impact; the role of the Compliance Committee; Aarhus and the European Union; Aarhus and Brexit; the application of the Convention in practice in England and Wales; and how it is applied in its neighbouring common law jurisdictions of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.  With contributions from leading academics and practitioners, the book will provide a comprehensive analysis of the Convention from its origins and scope, to its contemporary impact on law, policy and practice. 


On a lighter note...

Why did you choose to study law?

I fell into Law by complete accident; it sounded interesting and was something new that I’d not studied before.

Who are your greatest academic influences?

Definitely Ludwig Krämer the renowned environmental law academic, judge and public servant.

What is your favourite law book?

I enjoyed The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken; looking forward to reading Fake Law: The Truth about Justice in an Age of Lies.

What is your proudest academic achievement to date?

Being appointed to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in 2015.

Further Information

Dr Áine Ryall is a Senior Lecturer at the UCC School of Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Law and the Environment. Her research interests lie at the intersection of international, EU and national environmental law and governance. Dr Ryall has particular expertise in access to justice in environmental matters and environmental law enforcement.

Dr Ryall is Vice-Chair of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee. The Aarhus Convention is a multilateral environmental treaty which links environmental rights and human rights.  The Compliance Committee, which sits at the Palais de Nations, the United Nations Office in Geneva, oversees how 47 State Parties implement their obligations under the Convention as a matter of international law.

Read Dr Áine Ryall’s full research profile here:


School of Law

Scoil an Dlí

Room 1.63, Aras na Laoi, T12 T656