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International Law: Mock trial demonstrates need for new 'ecocide' law

Some crimes, such as genocide and war crimes, are considered so serious that they have been made international crimes. British lawyer Polly Higgins is campaigning to create a new law of 'ecocide' which will be considered just as serious as these.

A mock trial was set up at the Supreme Court where actors playing the bosses of fictional corporations Global Petroleum Company (GPC) and Glamis Group stood accused of destroying ecosystems after the Gulf oil spill and the mining of crude oil in Alberta.

Michael Mansfield QC, prosecuting, claimed: "Companies cannot be given a licence to spill and kill as long as they clean up the mess."

He said: "It's like saying in a wartime situation, 'Oh well, we bombed Warsaw, but they've recovered.'"

The trial featured expert witnesses such as Dr. Simon Boxall, Oceanography lecturer at the University of Southampton.

Dr Boxall said: "[An ecocide law] needs to encourage companies to be proactive in better safety and in dealing with an incident and acknowledging ownership of an incident at an early stage. There's a slight danger that although an ecocide law may increase safety it'll actually decrease a company taking responsibility."

Although GPC accepted responsibility for the deaths and injury caused to bird communities during the oil spill, the proposed law will place responsibility on the companies' CEOs personally.

Christopher Parker QC, defending, claimed that his clients were "scapegoats extraodinaire" and that the jury should "keep a sense of perspective".

Polly Higgins has been campaigning to make ecocide an international crime since 2008 when she first brought her proposal to the United Nations.

In order for the law to come into force a two-thirds majority of the signatories of a document called the Rome Statute would need to agree so that ecocide could become one of the international crimes along with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.

She said: "This is an international piece of legislation that actually could be implemented quickly and easily.

"We're looking at 86 people in the world can determine the outcome for this piece of legislation to be put in place."

Related links
Read more on the story (The Independent)
Read about the United Nations (FindLaw)
Find local specialist solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)