Estonia's top court: Automatically issued Päraküla logging permits unlawful

Supreme Court of Estonia in Tartu.
Supreme Court of Estonia in Tartu. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Supreme Court of Estonia upheld the appeals of local environmental association Päraküla selts MTÜ regarding logging permits issued for two properties located in Pärnu County. The permits were authorized by an algorithm of the Environmental Board which failed to take into account the rules governing core areas of Estonia's green network.

At the same time, the Administrative Law Chamber of the Supreme Court emphasized that while the Environmental Board's current practice differs from the positions taken in this decision, this decision's positions do not provide grounds for a general suspension of the registration of forest notifications — i.e. logging permits — regarding land within the green network; this would constitute a disproportionate restriction of freedoms, as the conditions for the protection of the green network do not require a full logging ban, including a ban on clear-cutting.

"By law, when registering a forest notice within the green network, the Environmental Board must review whether, when authorizing logging, the preservation, functioning, integrity and cohesion of the green network are preserved together with other effects," Supreme Court spokesperson Sandra Sommer explained Thursday. "In the case of the logging permits contested by the local environmental association, the automated system did not assess such effects on a case-by-case basis."

At the same time, Sommer added, the current general plan did not provide for adequate conditions for the protection of this specific core area.

In its Thursday decision, the Supreme Court found that the authority implementing an information system is responsible for the lawfulness of this system's automated decisions, and must ensure that the underlying data utilized by the information system is accurate, complete and up-to-date and that the information system complies with all legal requirements.

If the available technology does not allow for these requirements to be met, then the decision-making process must also involve a human being, the chamber added.

Likewise unlawful was the fact that the Environmental Board did not inform the public of the submission of the forest notification prior to issuing the logging permit.

The Supreme Court finds that making the information available in the information system that a forest notification has been submitted would constitute sufficient public notice. This would allow for interest parties to be informed of the location and conditions of a planned felling prior to the notification's entry into force. A period of one week or ten days, for example, should be given for the submission of positions or objections.

With its decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court overruled previous decisions by Tallinn Administrative Court as well as Tallinn Circuit Court, and ordered the Environmental Board to pay €19,000 in procedural costs on behalf of Päraküla selts MTÜ.

Under dispute were four permits issued in 2021 for clear-cutting in a core area of Estonia's green network located in the Pärnu County village of Päraküla. The permits were contested by the nonprofit Päraküla Society (Päraküla selts MTÜ), which found that the impacts of the felling on the green network went unassessed in the automatic registration of the relevant forest notification.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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