A landmark decision by the Land and Environment Court could see a new practice area develop for legal professionals.
Under the ruling, exploration licence conditions have now become part of the access arrangements prospectors have with landholders.
The change means any breach of the licence conditions, such as the environmental safe guards, will be a breach of the access arrangement and can be heard in the Land and Environment Court instead of it being left to the minister for mining and the department of primary resources of NSW.
Peter Long, Slater and Gordon practice group leader at Gunnedah, who appeared for the landholders in the landmark case, said the decision made clear the obligations and responsibilities prospectors have when they go onto someone’s land.
“Under the old regime- landholders could contact the department and express their concern, but now if the landholder was of the opinion there has been a breach, that landholder could take that issue to the Land and Environment Court, because it would constitute a breach of the excess arrangement,” said Long.
However, as this is the first case of its kind, no particular area of expertise has been developed to deal with the issues associated with these cases.
“Who would specialise in that are is yet to be determined. However, what you would be seeking is someone who understands the procedures and practices of the Land and Environment Court and someone who also understood license conditions regarding exploration for mining,” said Long.
“There are a small group of lawyers who have developed experience in the Mining Wardens Court and others who have experience with the Land and Environment Court, and then there are also some who have experience with mining licenses and leases, so it’s a matter of trying to find those who can blend those areas.”
The case, with the Land and Environment Court sitting for the first time in its Mining Jurisdiction, involved three exploration licence holders challenging the conditions under which they were allowed to prospect on “Kayrunnera Station” outside White Cliffs in Western NSW.
Long, who has built up a reputation for fighting for members of the rural community, also represents landholders in the Gunnedah region in their dispute with BHP over plans to prospect for coal on Australia’s premier farming land.
“We are pleased that with mining matters now in the hands of the Land and Environment Court it will be simpler for landholders to implement sanctions if prospectors breach their license conditions,” he said.