October 13th, 2022
Clinic experience highlights the variety of environmental law issues covered
Elizabeth Kealey reflects on participating in clinic work
The opportunity to take part in the ELF/University of Sussex law clinic as a final year law student provided me with the opportunity to gain experience in environmental law, enabled me to build my knowledge and advise the public on environmental matters. I collaborated with other members of the clinic on several cases including a case concerning toad migration within England. Toads follow ancient migration routes which often cross busy roads, causing high mortality rates of toads, an important and ‘priority’ species in the UK. In this case, members of the public came to ELF seeking a road closure to protect migrating toads. The clinic was able to provide an advice letter, after conducting research, outlining various avenues the community could take to protect the toads, and encourage the council to act.
Another case that I worked on concerned a proposed development on land that members of the local community are concerned about due to the extent and nature of the proposed development and the important biodiversity on the site, including the purse web spider, slow worms and bats. This case raised legal issues relating to the protection of biodiversity, neighbourhood planning, and the importance of consultation with communities. The clinic requested ecology reports from the county council outlining the important biodiversity in the area, after nearly a year and half of correspondence and requests, the reports were released to us. These reports strengthened the residents’ case as they highlight the loss that will occur due to the development. The ecology reports will be used to make the case that biodiversity should be taken into consideration during the planning process. The clinic also assisted on a case that involved an open space that was being used as a car park, which the client believed was in violation of the Open Spaces Act 1906, and I provided advice on a freedom of information request, the public interest test for disclosure and the duties of the council. The work I carried out on this case drew my attention to the complexity of freedom of information legislation. I was able to clarify this process for the client, effectively increasing their access to justice as they could now accurately request the information needed from the council.
I have learnt a great deal during my experience in the clinic about the legal field as a whole and the environmental legal field specifically. Environmental law matters can be challenging to navigate as they more often than not require one to draw upon many areas of the law. A case that may seem straightforward may actually have many legal issues that need addressing. Advising members of the public on real issues that they are passionate about was a rewarding experience that I am proud to have accomplished during my studies. The opportunity to work in an environment where everyone shares a common goal and passion for preserving the environment is an undertaking that has enriched my legal experience and I am glad to have been a part of the clinic.