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Employ creativity and strategy to protect environment

Employ creativity and strategy to protect environment

By Karin Derkley

Access to Justice Environmental Protection Human Rights 


The lawyer who helped coordinate litigation which saved a section of East Gippsland's Errinundra Plateau from logging 11 years ago has urged lawyers to be passionate and creative in their use of the law to protect the environment.

Speaking at the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) Victoria Community Opening of the Legal Year at the County Court, Bleyer Lawyers principal Vanessa Bleyer recalled the legal effort in saving old growth forest at Brown Mountain from logging in 2010.

As president of Lawyers for Forests, Ms Bleyer had been asked by environmentalist Jill Redwood, who also spoke at the ICJ event, to find a way to stop the proposed logging of Brown Mountain. "We knew it was important to put together a team of good lawyers who were prepared to work on a shoestring."

After a long battle in the courts, the group won the case and the Victorian government was ordered to pay legal costs, vindicating the use of the law in such cases, Ms Bleyer said. Brown Mountain was one of the few parts of East Gippsland that did not burn during the recent bushfires.

"Running environment litigation is important," Ms Bleyer said. "It always involves risk, creativity and strategy. It is also important to have an understanding of the political environment in which you are litigating and the politics that is going on by your side and behind your back."

Introducing Ms Bleyer and Ms Redwood, ICJ executive member Professor Felicity Gerry QC pointed out that environmental issues, including climate change, had a human rights dimension that made them an important area of litigation. Professor Gerry commended LIV legal policy paralegal and ICJ executive member Alex Laurence for helping her design a summer subject on climate change litigation at Deakin Law School.

Also at the ICJ event, Human Rights Law Centre legal director David Burke was awarded the John Gibson Award for human rights for his work defending the rights of people seeking asylum, including work to coordinate the pro bono efforts of law firms on medevac appeals heard by the Federal Court.

In his introductory address, Court of Appeal president Justice Chris Maxwell said that the start of the legal year was an opportunity for those working in the justice system to pause and reflect on how what they did individually and collectively was an expression and embodiment of the rule of law.

"You need to see yourself as a champion of the rule of law, be proud of that and pay attention to it, because there are plenty of pressures within the community and the political world which means these principles are of increasing importance."

But lawyers and the judiciary also need to learn to live with uncertainty and not being in control, he cautioned. "We need to be conscious of our own limitations and be open to self-doubt. To acknowledge the possibility that you might be wrong promotes reflection and inquiry and debate with others and the process of self-questioning ultimately makes it more likely that the conclusion you reach or the advice you give or the judgment you hand down will be correct having been through that inquiry."

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