Environmental Risk: The Responsibilities of the Law and Science (Lord Woolf)


Lord Woolf (lecture)


Environmental law, Environmental Law Foundation, GMO’s, science and technology, the human environment, Human Rights Act, an environmental court, public trust, the precautionary principle, freedom of information.


This lecture was given at the ‘Environmental Law Foundation Professor David Hall Lecture’ at the Brunei Gallery, University of London (24th May 2001). Lord Woolf tackles the effects of science on the environment and the risks of development continuing unfettered. Starting with the example of the need for regulation following scientific advancements during the Industrial Revolution he asks the question whether or not present environmental law is adequate to deal with the new risks science posses. Are the treats or dangers calculated by society worth it for the greater good? What level of risk is acceptable? He contends that as science is not an absolute it is for society to judge which risks are worth taking. Nonetheless in reality policy makers make those decisions but if democracy is to function properly it must be seen that such decisions have solid foundations. He states the role of law is important in three ways; first, the law should ‘ensure that the standards set down by policy makers are enforced fairly and efficiently. Second to ensure the process of decision-making is to the highest standard using the best available scientific advice. The process should be accountable and transparent allowing for public participation. Third Lord Woolf recognises that the law should protect Convention (ECHR) rights in light of the enactment of the HRA 1998 but highlights the difficulty of balancing ‘rights of the individual against the will of the majority as expressed through Parliament’.


(2001) 13(3) Environmental Law and Management, 131.


Environmental risk: the resonsibilities of law and science.