A critique on privately prosecuting the holder of ‘after the fact’ environmental authorisations: Uzani Environmental Advocacy CC v BP Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd
Author: Melissa Strydom
Affiliations: LLB (UJ) LLM (Wits), PhD candidate, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Source: South African Law Journal, Volume 138 Issue 3, p. 617-648
There has been much debate about ‘after the fact’ environmental authorisations and the ability to privately prosecute environmental-law offences in South Africa. These two issues came to a head in Uzani Environmental Advocacy CC v BP Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd. This case is the first known private prosecution of environmental-law contraventions in South Africa. BP Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd (‘BPSA’) was privately prosecuted for constructing filling stations without environmental authorisations, allegedly between 1998 and 2005. BPSA submitted ‘rectification’ applications in 2005, paid administrative fines, and was issued with ‘after the fact’ environmental authorisations. Nevertheless, in 2019 BPSA was convicted for contravening the related environmental-law requirement. This article discusses the applicable legislative context, the complex and frequently changing environmental laws, and their interpretation and application in a criminal context. Criticisms of the Uzani judgment include that the court did not sufficiently deliberate or determine the applicable law at the time of the offences for which BPSA was indicted; the public or environmental interest served by the private prosecution; strict liability in relation to the offence; policy and other considerations for not prosecuting these offences; constitutionality and admissibility of the evidence; and the potentially far-reaching consequences of such prosecutions. These issues all act as reminders of the importance of clear and precise legislative drafting, and contextual interpretation.