The head of The University of Queensland Pro Bono Centre at the TC Beirne School of Law, Monica Taylor, has expressed disappointment and regret at recent State Government funding cuts to the Environmental Defenders Offices in Brisbane and Cairns.Â
â€œThe EDO is the only community legal centre in Queensland that provides specialist advice and public interest advocacy on environmental legal issues,â€ UQ Pro Bono Centre Director, Taylor said.Â
â€œWe regard the EDO as a vital agency doing important work in the public interest.â€Â
Taylor told The New Lawyer that vibrant community legal centres are important for a functioning legal profession, â€œtheir role is specialist and vitalâ€.
â€œCommunity Legal Centres take the load off, they provide legal services where nobody else can provide it. Nobody does what the EDO does,â€ she said in an interview.
She believes Legal Aid canâ€™t fill the gap that will be left, and â€œbig firms usually act for those on the other side of the coinâ€.
The UQ Pro Bono Centre links experienced law student volunteers from the TC Beirne School of Law with community legal centres seeking assistance in their pro bono activities.Â Taylor says the University will continue to provide law elective subjects around the environment, but it canâ€™t officer the chance to practice that in a clinical setting.
This month, the UQ Pro Bono Centre and the EDO are partnering to provide clinical placements for law students at the EDO.Â
â€œLaw student interest in environmental issues is extremely strong at UQ, with high enrolments in our environmental law elective courses,â€ Taylor said.Â
â€œWe are partnering with the community legal sector to develop dynamic learning opportunities for our students in a clinical legal setting.Â
â€œEngaging in public interest and pro bono legal work is a core part of a well-rounded legal education,â€ she said. Usually between three to six students will have access to one experienced legal practitioner. However, funding cuts means there will likely be fewer of those professionals in these centres.
â€œWithout organisations like the EDO, not only the environment but our profession as a whole would be far worse off,â€ Taylor said.Â
"Certainly from our perspective, defunding the EDO has consequences for our Centre's ability to expand our clinical legal education program for experienced law students.â€Â