Supreme Court of Hungary broadens NGO standing
Sep 14, 2009
1145863813szechytamas-uszoda04.jpg
The enlarged pool complex from a bird's eye view.

Since 1995 December, the entry into force of the Environmental Protection Act of Hungary (that grants legal standing to NGOs in environmental administrative cases) the scope of standing has been a matter of constant dispute between civil society and state administration. While NGOs are advocating for a broad and inclusive construction of the above notion, naturally the government is in favor of a more restrictive interpretation. For almost a decade only EIA and IPPC cases have been considered “environmental administrative cases” where NGOs have full standing. However, in 2004 the Supreme Court of Hungary issued an interpretative statement, broadening legal standing of NGOs to any proceeding where the regional EPA offices play any role (even as a co-decision authority). Unfortunately, the statement at the same time limited this standing to those issues that fall under the competence of the EPAs.

In a landmark case of a large-scale sport swimming pool enlargement on Margaret Island (located in the middle of River Danube in the heart of Budapest) where plaintiff NGOs challenged the procedural as well as the substantive legality of the construction permit, legal standing was refused by the court in certain issues not covered by the competence of the regional EPA. However, a recent judgment of the Supreme Court made in an appellate process the latter standing was broadened to an issue of monetary character, i.e. how much money should be paid by the project developer as compensation for cutting trees that were on the spot of the construction.

Thus the Supreme Court has clearly broadened legal standing of NGOs of Hungary to issues not even being strictly environmental, and has exceeded those limits that the Supreme Court itself has set five years ago in its interpretative statement.

Environmental NGOs welcome this improvement, however, we must note that the pool enlargement has been completed in 2006 and the case lasted three years to finish finally at the judiciary.

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