Minister of State at the Department of Justice, James Browne, welcomed this initiative, noting that the division "will allow for greater efficiency and specialism in the handling of litigation relating to planning and environmental matters" and that dealing with these cases in an efficient manner "is key to enabling the State's delivery of housing and infrastructure, while also protecting the environment". It is anticipated that this new division will reduce delays in obtaining planning, thus playing a key role in advancing the government's Housing for All plan.
The Court will operate with specialist judges, and the report of the Judicial Planning Working Group (JPWG), due to be made later this year, is anticipated to include recommendations regarding the appointment of additional judges to sit on this Court.
Notably, it is anticipated that this Court is expected to predominantly operate online.
Speaking to the Law Society Gazette (available here), Zoe Richardson, partner for the Fieldfisher Planning and Environmental team, welcomed this announcement, commenting that this division "has the potential to bring further consistency of approach and efficient management of cases".
The introduction of a Planning and Environmental division of the High Court is emblematic of an international trend of the implementation of specialized environmental courts and tribunals. A 2016 Guide for Policy Makers on Environmental Courts & Tribunals from the UN Environmental Programme (available here) notes that this trend is "driven by the development of new international and national environmental laws and principles, by recognition of the linkage between human rights and environmental protection, by the threat of climate change, and by public dissatisfaction with the existing general judicial forums". A notable example of such a court in another jurisdiction is the Planning and Environment Court of Queensland.
The move towards specialised environmental courts stems from a recognition of the need to prioritise cases that will have an impact on the environment and often require a judicial analysis of complex, constantly changing scientific and technical information. Specialised judges who have been trained in this area and have the opportunity to build up expertise in this area are better equipped to preside over these matters with greater efficiency. Some of the benefits of this include lower costs for the parties involved as well as greater uniformity in decisions.
Our Planning & Environmental team is available to assist with any queries arising from this announcement and how it will impact the landscape of Planning & Environmental litigation in the future.
Written by: Jonathan Moore and Craig Farrar
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