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29 June
Comments Off on Legal Aid to stop environmental challenges

Legal Aid to stop environmental challenges

LEGAL Aid NSW will stop paying for public legal challenges on environmental matters as part of its efforts to cut costs from July.
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Hunter environmental and community groups say without legal aid some of the most significant legal challenges mounted in the region would not have been possible.

These included challenges against Centennial Coal’s Anvil Hill (now Mangoola) mine, near Wybong, the Hunter Environment Lobby against the expansion of the Ulan mine, the Sweetwater Action Group against Huntlee, the Ironstone Community Act Group against what is now Yancoal in the Gloucester area and Barrington-Gloucester Stroud Preservation Alliance against AGL’s Gloucester gas project.

Legal aid, which is means-tested and subject to a merit test, has been available for public interest matters that raise ‘‘substantial’’ public concern about the environment.

In addition to financial support, litigants who have obtained legal aid have been covered by an indemnity against costs that protected them from claims from the corporations they challenged.

A spokesman for Lock the Gate Hunter, Steve Phillips, said the loss of the indemnity was probably more significant than the financial support.

‘‘Only cases that are 100per cent sure of a win will go ahead and that is rare,’’ Mr Phillips said.

Hunter Communities Network spokeswoman Bev Smiles said community challenges were on important issues, such as the health impacts of projects, and against multinational corporations for whom money was no object.

Barrington-Gloucester Stroud Preservation Alliance spokesman Graeme Healy said the cuts would stop all legal challenges from community groups.

Environmental Defender’s Office executive director Jeff Smith said it was unlikely challenges similar to those made in the Hunter in recent years could proceed once the cuts were made.

Legal Aid NSW and Attorney-General Greg Smith’s office did not respond to the Newcastle Herald’s request for comment yesterday.

 
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