O'Farrell cancels legal aid for David vs Goliath environmental court cases

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The O’Farrell Government’s cuts to Legal Aid funding mean it will no longer be available for major environmental cases which are in the public interest as of tomorrow, 1 July.

From July 1, Legal Aid support – which has previously been available for major environmental cases that are found to be in the public interest – will cease. This includes major forestry, mining or pollution breaches.

Shadow Minister for the Environment, Luke Foley said the move to prevent Legal Aid from fighting major environmental cases was the latest in a long line of attacks on the State’s environment under the O’Farrell Government.

“Prohibiting Legal Aid from being used in major public interest environmental cases will mean local communities in many cases have no way of taking big industry or developers to court for serious environmental breaches,” Mr Foley said.

“In what are already David versus Goliath legal cases, the O’Farrell Government is only tipping the balance even further in favour of big industry over the local communities trying to protect our environment.

“For environmental cases to be eligible for Legal Aid, they must be proven to be in the public interest and have a strong chance of success. Funding is not provided lightly.

“New South Wales has long had an iconic right that any citizen can take action to stop a breach of the law. Citizens and communities have the right to defend places they love through the courts.

“This imbalance has long been addressed by the availability of legal aid for genuine public interest environmental cases.

“This legal support has been essential to making sure the environmental protection laws operate effectively in the state.

“Significant court cases in the 1990s saw our forests protected from illegal logging, while more recently we have seen better environmental outcomes for coal affected towns and communities halt unsustainable developments in their local areas through the courts.

“The possibility of our environmental laws being held to account through this system have kept it transparent and accountable. This will be greatly diminished from today.

“This legal support made our democracy work better and fairer. It gave people and nature some protection from the power of money and influence. It is a sad day for communities and the environment.”