A resolution has been signed by all 21 judges of the National Court of Justice, a court with jurisdiction throughout all of Ecuador, declaring that judges in the province of Galapagos have the standing to hear cases on environmental crimes. Judges in the area had previously refused to hear around 100 cases, arguing lack of expertise. The cases then had to be heard in the Provincial Court of Justice, some 1 000 kilometres away, severely limiting access to justice.
The Provincial Prosecutor of Galapagos sought a consultation with the National Court of Justice as several cases, including unauthorised fisheries and the capture of marine protected species, were not being heard. The National Court of Justice has the authority to issue rulings when there is doubt on the meaning of Ecuadorian laws. The consultation was formally requested by the Attorney General of Ecuador, and the consultation process included engagements with civil society. Ultimately, the National Court of Justice held that the judges of the territorial section where the offense occurred are the competent authorities to hear such cases in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code of Ecuador.
Hugo Echeverria, a member of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law and a member of the Conservation Sector of Galapagos, says the resolution is important because it “answers a legal question on judicial competence, which had various legal criteria, all equally respectable; and historic, because it is the first time the Plenary of the National Court addresses an issue of environmental judicial procedure, showing the leading role that the judiciary has on the new legal field of environmental law.”