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Precautionary Maybe, but What's the Principle? The Precautionary Principle, the Regulation of Risk, and the Public Domain

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The ‘precautionary principle’, originating in the field of environmental protection but now widely applied, is a major point for discussion in the regulation of risk. Though promising proactive and pre-emptive intervention to prevent potentially irreversible harm, its precise meaning remains somewhat unclear. Legal systems tend to view it as procedural rather than substantive, and debates abound regarding its ‘stronger’ or ‘weaker’ versions and, indeed, the very concept of ‘risk’. It is also necessary to discuss how the principle operates in varying administrative and constitutional contexts but the key task is to clarify the principle's fundamental value base. If its essentially collective orientation is highlighted, it may better ensure that democratic and non-pecuniary interests are given due prominence in regulatory contexts otherwise dominated by economic interests and technological imperatives, and it may then play an important role in reasserting the values of the public domain in the face of powerful private interests.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The Law School, University of Hull, Hull HU6 7RX, England, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2005-09-01

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