Law students take field trip to Sydney, visit community solar projects and Environmental Defenders Office

Rooftop Solar Panels
Photo: Slimdandy, Flickr

It’s an area of law where there are real access to justice issues for everyday people trying to protect the environment.

Students in the Environmental Law Clinical Program have returned from Sydney where they visited two community solar energy projects; the Environmental Defenders Office NSW; and met with justices of the Land and Environment Court.

The eight environmental law students learned about the legal hurdles that such community projects have encountered, and other battles being fought by pro bono lawyers in NSW courts.

The ANU College of Law students visited Stucco, a student cooperative that is the first multi-unit residence in Australia to achieve a unified solar panel and battery network; and Young Henrys, a Newtown craft brewery being powered by 115 solar panels on its roof. The brewery’s solar project was run through Pingala, an organisation which utilises support and funding from local communities to build community-owned solar farms on urban rooftops.

A visit to the Sydney law firm Gilbert and Tobin, which represented Stucco pro bono in negotiations with the Australian Energy Regulator, gave students insight into the kind of cases environmental lawyers encounter, and why legal experts are key to Australia’s growing renewable energy industry.

Students also visited the Land and Environment Court, where they met The Hon. Justice Tim Moore and The Hon. Justice John Robson.

Course convenor Dr James Prest said the trip provided a vital opportunity for students to see the centre of the action for many environmental lawyers in Australia.

“Students participated in a detailed discussion of the different jurisdictions of the court and the unique approaches taken in relation to expert evidence and mediation,” he said.

“Students also had the chance to visit the offices of the much larger NSW Environmental Defender’s Office (EDO), a community legal centre specialising in environmental and planning law, and to hear a presentation from Elaine Johnston the Principal Solicitor.”

The visit to the EDO was of particular interest to Juris Doctor student Bruce Chalmers, who is currently completing an internship with the Environmental Defenders Office ACT as part of the Environmental Law Clinical Program.

“Seeing how the EDO in NSW manage their case load, and decide which cases they will take on was very interesting,” he said.

“It’s an area of law where there are real access to justice issues for everyday people trying to protect the environment, and it was also interesting to learn how the Land and Environment Court accommodates people by making the system more accessible and affordable.”

Dr Prest said overall the trip was a valuable inclusion to the clinical program.

“In my view, students can learn so much more by stepping out of the classroom into a clinical program where they can hear real stories about challenges faced by clients, and matched by the incredible persistence of their lawyers,” he said.

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Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team