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Shaping the Structure of Legal Opportunities: Environmental NGOs Bringing International Environmental Procedural Rights Back Home
Law & Policy  (IF1.432),  Pub Date : 2017-12-22, DOI: 10.1111/lapo.12093
Lisa Vanhala

Research on legal opportunity structures has focused on how existing law, standing rules, and the costs of litigation shape the likelihood that social movement groups will mobilize the law. Yet there has been relatively little research to show why and how legal opportunity structures change over time. This paper focuses on a case study of the mobilization of procedural environmental rights contained within the Aarhus Convention. It addresses the following empirical puzzle: how did rights that were designed to help Eastern Europeans achieve environmental democracy eventually contribute to a re-shaping of the structure of legal opportunities in Britain? Through a two-step historical process-tracing analysis that relies on a social constructivist theoretical approach, this research shows that environmental groups mobilized Aarhus rights in a number of ways and across different judicial venues, resulting in an evolution over time of the meaning of access to justice so that it included being “not prohibitively expensive.” This research builds on previous work to show that civil society agents are not passive agents situated within legal opportunity structures but instead are strategic actors who can develop and shape access to justice through policy entrepreneurialism and litigation. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.