The person or group bringing a legal claim (“the Claimant(s)” or “the Plaintiff(s)”) must show that they are entitled to bring the claim. In many countries, this entitlement is called “standing”. Establishing standing can be a difficult issue and may result in a case being declined as “inadmissible” because the claimant is unable to establish a sufficient legal interest to bring the case.
The standing requirements will depend on what action you are bringing. The following types of people can often have standing to bring constitutional, public law or human rights claims. However, you must check the laws in your country’s legal system as the laws on standing will vary from country to country.
If you are bringing a claim to a regional court or international body, the requirements on admissibility and standing may differ from your country’s rules. You must check these requirements prior to starting the relevant procedural process.
To learn more about standing in environmental litigation, see the A4J Environment Module.
If you would like more information on standing in general, see “Who Can Take Legal Action?” on the A4J Going to Court Module.
Standing requirements may require you to have a “sufficient interest” in the claim you are bringing.
You will generally need to demonstrate to the court that you have a sufficient connection to the law, action, or omission that you are disputing.
This means that claims can generally only be brought by the person who has been harmed by deforestation or forest degradation when a national or international law is broken or when a government or corporation fails to take appropriate action. This usually means you must have suffered actual harm, but in some circumstances a serious or immediate threat of harm is admissible.
The harm you have or will suffer must also be redressable. For example, if you live in a protected forest area and suffer harm due to unauthorised logging, the harm you have suffered may be redressable if the Court has the authority to issue remedies to rectify this harm (such as a court order to stop the logging).
Some jurisdictions permit multiple affected individuals to be represented collectively by a claimant.
Claimants do not always need to be individuals or groups of individuals. For example, a Wildlife Trust that owns a nature reserve where unauthorised deforestation occurs may be permitted to bring a case.
Case Example: Jet Sri-Ngeon v. Minister of Industry
386 members of the Ban Haeng Conservation Group in Thailand filed an administrative claim against 8 defendants, including Thailand’s Minister of Industry. They challenged a mining permit that was approved for a reserved forest site that had not yet been lawfully permitted for other uses. All 386 plaintiffs were residing and working in two villages in at the site of the mining permit.
The Court ruled that all 386 plaintiffs had standing to sue Defendant 1 (Minister of Industry) and Defendant 5 (who had the sole legal authority to approve the environmental impact assessment). The Court ruled that the plaintiffs were directly affected as stakeholders. They faced greater impact (unavoidable injury or harm to their constitutional rights) by the mining permit than the general public. However, the Court held the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue the remaining defendants because they were not harmed or threatened of unavoidable harm from their acts or omissions.
In some countries, groups that have an interest in a particular issue can bring a case that involves that issue even if they are not personally affected.
Case Example: Yala National Park Decision
The Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled in favour of three local environmental groups who brought an action against a biofuel company that had been allegedly illegally clearing forest land in Yala National Park. The land clearing was impacting elephant population as well as local farmers.
Recognition of the Rights of Nature gives some or all aspects of the natural environment (e.g. trees and forest ecosystems) the legal right to stand in court when it has suffered harm. Under these rights, nature is a subject of its own rights and has the right to have these entitlements defended in court.
These rights are sometimes known as “Earth Rights” or “Pachamama Rights”.
Although there is currently no legal recognition for the Rights of Nature in international law, some countries have recognised the Rights of Nature in their national laws and constitutions.
Title II, Chapter 7 of Ecuador’s Constitution explicitly refer to the Rights of Nature. Among other rights, it importantly has the right to exist and the right to restoration. The State is also required to take precaution and restrict activities that can cause extinction, ecosystem destruction or alter natural cycles.
Case Example: Lake Tota Case (Columbia)
The water from Lake Tota was contaminated with high levels of lead, impacting the 7 municipalities in Boyacá that relied on it for drinking water. In addition to finding that the rights of the municipalities had be violated, the First Civil Court of the Oral Circuit of Sogamoso declared Lake Tota and its basin a subject of rights to protection, conservation maintenance and restoration under the responsibility of the State.
You may be able to bypass specific standing requirements if you are able to report to a particular government body or independent organisation rather than bringing a case to court. This may be a useful option in supply chain accountability cases where there are regulatory and oversight bodies managing the chain.
Standing is part of the wider concept of “justiciability” which limits the Courts authority to adjudicate where a legal issue is not suitable for judicial review.
See the A4J Topic Sheet on Justiciability for more information.