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2nd November - HSI seeks more access to the courts not less      

HSI seeks more access to the courts, not less

2nd November 2016

Humane Society International (HSI) is alarmed at recent statements made by the Federal Government that it plans to limit the legal standing of conservation groups in court proceedings through amendments to section 487 of federal environment legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

"HSI has brought or financially supported a total of 25 legal cases under environmental law to ensure that our most important environmental assets are protected,” said HSI's Campaign Director Michael Kennedy. "These proposed changes simply seek to block proper public process and should be rejected.”

HSI considers that the 2006 removal of rights to challenge the merits of ministerial decisions was an affront to public accountability and we have long campaigned for these rights to be reinstated. Indeed, the ability to appeal decisions ought to be further extended so that approvals that are likely to have a significant impact on Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) can be challenged on their merit.

HSI has provided the Federal Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg MP, with a detailed briefing on what it considers to be appropriate public access to the courts, prepared by the Environmental Defenders Office of NSW (EDO NSW)*.

HSI believes that rather than seeking to limit legal standing, the EPBC Act should be amended to provide 'open standing' for any person to seek judicial review of government decisions, in line with best practice. There are strong arguments for broadening judicial review rights beyond existing 'extended standing' rules (section 487), to allow any person to seek judicial review of the legality of a decision. There is no evidence that open standing provisions 'open the floodgates' to litigation or increase the likelihood of vexatious litigation. This has been conclusively demonstrated by open standing for judicial review in NSW planning and environmental laws over the last 35 years.

"HSI therefore calls on the Government to reconsider its ill-advised attack on conservation groups and instead amend the EPBC Act to provide open standing in line with best practice,” concluded Mr Kennedy.

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