Environmental Psychology & Therapeutic Jurisprudence: Rethinking Environmental Courts and Tribunals

The legal philosophy of therapeutic jurisprudence – how the law and legal processes can innovate to improve the wellbeing of people and communities – is a interdisciplinary approach that can be applied in all areas of the law.    Over the coming two weeks,  we will explore how TJ thinking can be used to improve environmental law…

Guest blogger Nabeela Siddiqui focuses her TJ lens on Environmental Courts and Tribunals drawing on the social science of Environmental Psychology…

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Improving the environmental rule of law, access to justice and environmental dispute resolution is essential for achieving the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG Goal 16:

to provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Specialized Environmental Courts and Tribunals (ECTs) are now widely viewed as a successful way to accomplish this important goal.

The “explosion” in the number of ECTs since 2000 is astounding.  Today, there are over 1,200 ECTs in 44 countries at the national or state/provincial level, with some 20 additional countries discussing or planning ECTs.

This continuing explosion is being driven by the development of new international and national environmental laws and principles, by recognition of the linkage between human rights and environmental protection, by the threat of climate change, and by public dissatisfaction with the existing general judicial forums.

A systems analysis of both traditional general courts and existing ECTs helps us to identify the hurdles to effective environmental dispute resolution and environmental justice. What we fail to see is the pressing need to revisit the judicial enquiry processes and judgement writing techniques in environmental matters.

By adopting innovation through at TJ approach it is possible for victims, community and key decision-makers in business and government to see Environmental laws, ECT processes and judicial pronouncements in a new light.

This blog is a reflection of my time as a Law Clerk at the National Green Tribunal (Principal Bench, New Delhi, India).  In my experience the orders/ judgments sometimes do not grasp with the humanity of the issues coming before the Tribunal. Environmental law cases often involve highly emotional issues and psychological distress.  For example, recent floods in Kerala India, left many affected with Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.  ECTs however tend to adopt a more traditional civil court pattern, innovation is clogged and processes do not cater for, nor do judgments grapple with, the very real agony of victims and communities.

Exploring environmental psychology

As people become more environmentally conscious, climate and environmental psychologists are playing a larger role in the workforce. Many work for nonprofits or the government, often helping as research psychologists or clinicians with environmental expertise.

Environmental psychologists:

  • Support initiatives that focus on urban and city planning, environmental design and environmental health;
  • Conduct research on messages that might motivate people to change their behavior; spread the word about environmental solutions;
  • Uncover why people may not adopt positive behaviors;
  • Encourage people to rethink their positions in the natural world; and
  • Help clients to live more sustainable lives.

Environmental psychology research focuses on psychological processes related to how people affect their environment, and also how the environment affects people. This field can, for example, examine how resource usage and sustainability within consumption, transportation or policy making is related to the well-being of the humans, animals and the environment.

By way of example, comparing a person living in an urban setting with someone living in an urban setting with someone living in a rural setting, has to compete for space and other amenities with others, while the one living in a rural setting has plenty of amenities that he does not have to fight for. The effect of this is seen in the ways in which both these individuals behave and interact. The city dweller might be aggressive and prone to health problems; while the village dweller, having lived in an environment that is healthier and one where there is less competition in all respects, will be more healthy and respecting of human relations.

Environmental psychology also explores how design and structure of a building has an influence on human behavior. The arrangement of furniture, the inclusion of plants and flowers and several such factors will influence certain character traits in humans. The objective of environmental psychology is not only to study these factors, but to develop techniques by which a positive environment can be created which will have a positive effect on human behavior and lead to proper psychological growth. Thus effective planning of towns and the preservation of natural resources are some of the important factors that this field of psychology will influence.

Environmental psychological research can be applied in a variety of areas. For example in order to influence consumers into more sustainable consumption, develop more effective pro-environmental information, create policies for sustainable business, provide policymakers with tool for more effective decision making, or provide designers with tool in their work of creating pro-environmental environments.

Environmental psychology can also help us to understand the impacts of environmental disasters. Victims may be exposed to multiple and different traumas:

  • Major elements of loss
  • Exposure to bodies
  • Degradation and Humiliation in cases of trauma motivated by racial or religious reasons
  • Forced separation and relocation

Depending upon the types of disasters, the survivor may assume different types of emotional roles:

  • The survivor assumes the role of victim and responds as victimized.
  • The survivor assumes the role of victor and responds to the event in an active way that will foster problem-solving skills and learning and will make the person resilient after the event.

Therapeutic Jurisprudence and Environmental Psychology – the dynamic duo

For hundreds of years, people have bemoaned the unintelligibility of judgements and other legal documents and campaigned to make them clearer. Increasingly, that activity has been described as a movement—the “plain language movement”. They lack, outreach, humane touch and psychological consideration at the very basic levels.

Taking a TJ approach that draws on environmental psychology, judgements could be written in a way that acknowledge the psychological impacts and traumas and uses accessible language that seeks to restore and heal.

In addition, a TJ approach that draws on environmental psychology could be applied through the design of the enquiry itself.  For example, where cases involve victims who have experienced trauma, the processes could adopt a trauma informed approach for example ensuring that victims who have to give evidence can do so in a safe and supportive manner.

Legal processes could be adapted to include restorative justice approaches such as individual victim or victim community/environmental offender mediation.  Legal processes could look to environmental psychology to see how best to encourage future change in environmental behavior.

A TJ approach that encourages Environmental Courts and Tribunals to draw on environmental psychology to innovate could be help to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

About the writer – Nabeela Siddiqui is currently working as a Law Clerk at the National Green Tribunal (NGT, Principal Bench, New Delhi). She has completed her Masters in Law (Constitutional Law and Legal Order) from the University of Madras, Chennai and is the gold medal recipient for the session 2016-2018. She is a member of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) and the International Society of Therapeutic Jurisprudence. 

 

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One Response to Environmental Psychology & Therapeutic Jurisprudence: Rethinking Environmental Courts and Tribunals

  1. Pingback: Advancing Rights of Nature through Restorative Justice | Therapeutic Jurisprudence in the Mainstream BLOG

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