Media release

Government legal costs: Barrier to public interest cases, says EDO Victoria

April 08, 2014

EDO Victoria welcomes the Productivity Commission’s recommendations for Protective Costs Orders in today’s draft report on Access to Justice.

“It’s great to see the Productivity Commission supporting the availability of protective costs orders in public interest cases against government,” said CEO Brendan Sydes.

“As the Commission has recognised,  the usual ‘winner takes all’ rule that applies in most court cases prevents many important cases from even getting to court.  The threat of having to pay legal costs if you lose denies the community environmental justice.”

“Protective costs orders address this problem by providing that a concerned citizen, community group, or non-government organisation seeking to enforce the law won’t be liable for costs in public interest cases.”

“This is long overdue and we welcome this recommendation.  We’ve been calling for reform in this area for many years. It’s vital for our democracy that community groups can be heard. Why should a community group face being bankrupted, just because they want to hold government accountable for meeting its obligations under our environmental laws?”

“The simplest solution here would be a change to the law, making it clear that in all cases the default presumption is that concerned citizens or groups seeking to enforce the law will not be liable for the government’s legal costs if their case is unsuccessful. Courts would retain the power to deal with cases that might be found to be an abuse of process, and cases would be decided according to their merits – not who has the deepest pockets.”

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