Parvez Hassan (Hassan & Hassan (Advocates), Lahore , Pakistan ) Azim Azfar (Hassan & Hassan (Advocates), Lahore , Pakistan )
Environmental rights, public interest litigation, access to justice, South Asia , Pakistan , India , Bangladesh
(2004) 22 Virginia Environmental Law Journal 215
Almost a decade ago the Supreme Court of Pakistan delivered its landmark decision in Shehla Zia v. WAPDA, in which it held that the right to life guaranteed by Article 9 of the Constitution of Pakistan included the right to a healthy environment. 1 By means of this decision, the Supreme Court accorded environmental rights the highest status in Pakistani law – that of constitutional legitimacy. Such legitimacy is, of course, coveted not for its legal consequence alone, but also for what it represents – an almost sacred imperative that articulates the most fundamental values of a society.
Important as the result in this case was to the petitioners, the sense of accomplishment and hope that it generated was not tied to the outcome of the particular petition but to the expectation that a ripple effect may arise through the doctrine of precedent. After all, historic cases matter because they change the hierarchy of legal rules and set up default principles that apply to all future matters that come within its domain. The co-author of this article, Dr. Parvez Hassan was the counsel to the petitioners in this case and can convey the deep satisfaction felt by conservationists and human rights campaigners who realized that an important victory for public interest litigation in Pakistan had been realized. The value of the result in Shehla Zia can be better appreciated when it is borne in mind that the Constitution of Pakistan makes no specific mention of environmental rights.