International practices for environmental and sustainability decision-making with respect to expectations to uphold natural justice or procedural fairness through full engagement of public stakeholders concerning all information used to guide decisions are reviewed. Best practice principles that emerge from a literature review and survey of international practitioners from the impact assessment field are evaluated. The concept of natural justice relates to a duty to involve those affected by new development proposals to be involved in approval decision-making through meaningful consultation and participation. This includes fully explaining the reasons for a decision that has been made and reasonable provisions for appealing against decisions taken. Typically, natural justice is not something that is prescribed in law but emerges from practice and customs. The more advanced systems of impact assessment generally provide for a high level of transparency, accountability and public participation in decision-making. In systems where the advice to the decision-maker is available for public comment, there is a greater expectation for full disclosure of information relevant to decision-making. The nature of the legal direction provided for the basis of decision-making has direct bearing on the level of public involvement in decision-making. Decision-making by elected ministers is generally less transparent than that at the level of government agencies, and expectations of practitioners concerning natural justice varies accordingly. Balance has to be struck between efficiency of process and provision of endless opportunity for public participation in decision-making - provision of appeal rights along with full disclosure of the reasons behind a decision are important here. Ultimately some judgement is required by decision-makers to decide when and how much information should be disclosed to stakeholders on a case by case basis, realising however, that a fair process is ultimately likely to lead to the most sustainable outcome and in the most efficient way.
|Keywords:||Natural Justice, Procedural Fairness, Public Participation, Community Participation, Legal Frameworks, Sustainability Decision-Making|
Senior Lecturer in Environmental Assessment, School of Environmental Science, Murdoch University, Perth, WA, Australia
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