SCOTLAND must set up an environmental court if it is to have any real power to tackle related crime after Brexit, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was told today.
Highlands and Islands MSP John Swinney said the country faced seeing legislation “torn apart” as a result of Brexit unless ministers act.
His intervention comes after calls for the court were rejected last week by the Scottish Government.
Speaking during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood, he challenged the SNP to think again, and said: “Last week, the Scottish Government announced that it will not establish an environmental court or tribunal.
“When we leave the European Union we will lose the oversight of the European Court of Justice, a court that has played a key role monitoring and enforcing environmental obligations.
“The legal system of the UK does not allow us to fully replace the ECJ, yet an environmental court here in Scotland would go a long way to patching the regulatory framework about to be torn apart by Brexit, particularly in providing for legal expertise on environmental issues.
“Scotland must establish a new Environmental Court to replace the functions currently fulfilled by the European Court of Justice, along with a new Environment Commissioner with powers to hold the government to account on its environmental commitments.”
He added: “It’s puzzling why the First Minister does not agree.”
Ms Sturgeon said the government did not take environmental crime lightly.
She said: “I recognise that John Finnie and I have a difference of opinion on a specialist court.
“However, it is important—whether we are talking about environmental crime or regulation or any other matter—that we do not somehow suggest that just because we do not have a specialist court these issues are not taken seriously in our wider justice and court system.
“They very much are taken seriously, and they absolutely will continue to be.”
She added: “This Government is determined that the—in our view, wrongheaded—decision to leave the European Union will not lead to any dilution or weakening of environmental protections, employment protections, consumer protections or any of the other protections that people feel are so important.
“We will do that where we can through our devolved responsibilities.
“One of the reasons why we are so concerned about the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is that some of the powers that currently rest in Brussels would end up being centralised at Westminster, rather than coming here to allow us to take that action.
“We will act in whatever way we can, and where we do not have the power to act we will make the case for the UK Government to do so.
“There is no doubt that the weakening of regulation and protection is one thing that people have the right to be concerned about in the Brexit process.”
Image credits: cc DennisFlarsen