Justice Brian Preston, Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales, Australia, spoke at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law last Friday about the operation and the benefits of a specialized court whose jurisdiction is all matters having to do with environmental law.
"It is a one-stop shop where you can bring all aspects of environmental law,” Justice Preston stated. The court on which he sits is 30 years old, created by statute and operating on the state level in Australia’s federal system. Most environmental disputes in his country, Justice Preston related, are matters of state law. Judges on the Land and Environment Court (LEC) are experts in environmental law, and they are assisted by commissioners, technically able in the complicated matters that come before an environment court.
“Access to justice is of critical importance,” said Justice Preston. Consequently, the LEC has adopted a policy of open standing, permitting any person to bring a case. Asked whether any downside exists to open standing, the Justice adamantly stated, “Absolutely not. There has been no flood of litigation. And you don’t need standing requirements to get rid of cases that amount to no more than rubbish.”
The LEC, he reported, is able to dispose of cases efficiently, with many cases handled in 30 days and nearly all disposed of within one year. Another advantage to the Land and Environment Court, according to Justice Preston, is the nature of environmental issues. “They are polycentric,” he said, involving legal issues and also social, political, economic, and scientific questions.
Justice Preston has advocated for and assisted in the formation of environmental courts in other parts of Australia and in other nations. He related that India is the country most recently that has created an environmental court, passed through a national tribunal act.
Don Smith, Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law program, said, "The Sturm College of Law was honored to host Justice Preston. Those attending Justice Preston's presentation benefited from his observations about the LEC, which is widely regarded as one of the leading courts of its kind in the world.
"Professor George (Rock) Pring played a key role in bringing Justice Preston to the Sturm College of Law. Professor Pring has co authored, along with his wife Catherine (Kitty) Pring, a landmark book, Greening Justice: Creating and Improving Environmental Courts and Tribunals. During their work on that book, the Prings became acquaitned with Justice Preston. Students attending the Sturm College of Law benefit greatly from these types of cutting-edge presentations, and all of us are greatly indebted to Justice Preston and Professor Pring for last week's event."