Our Litigation Powerhouse

Jonny Korman, Dr Kylie Weston-Scheuber, and Kwabena Adjei Larbi

Our crack legal team won a series of decisive legal cases in the Victorian Supreme Court in November 2022, the ultimate outcome of which has been the end of most native forest logging in our State.

Environment East Gippsland, Kinglake Friends of Forests, and Gippsland Environment Group were the three litigants in the famous Gliders case which saw the end of logging in eastern Victoria. Our tireless lawyers are worthy of an international award. We (and the forests) can never thank them enough.

‘Team Glider’ – Kwabeba, Kylie and Jonny. (Flick and Awaa from KFF)

After 50 years of dogged community campaigning to protect our native forests, this result must be, the most significant environmental outcome of the year. 

The court cases were the nail in the coffin for native forest logging.  In May 2023 The Age reported:

“Treasurer Tim Pallas said the decision was made after receiving legal advice that the government could not legislate to prevent the regular legal disputes that VicForests had lost against conservation groups.”

Our three conservation groups were the plaintiffs in the Yellow-bellied and Greater Glider cases taken on by these champion lawyers. They were extraordinary, tireless and generous.

Here are some examples of their remarkable commitment and hard work:

First, their expansion of the scope of the Environment East Gippsland case to include other forests being defended by local conservation groups. The Court first granted an injunction in May 2021 stopping logging and preventing further damage in some of the most valuable, unburnt Greater Glider habitat remaining in East Gippsland.  The legal team quickly expanded the case by adding forests in the Central Highlands, and new clients Kinglake Friends of Forests.  Later, forests in Central Gippsland/Tambo were also added, with new clients Gippsland Environment Group. 

The wider scope added a huge workload for the team but it was very important for three reasons.  It gave the groups more affordable access to the Court – the arguments were similar in the different forests and so there were “economies of scale”.  When we won the cases, it also meant the impact was very significant & far-reaching.  It stopped logging in forests from the Hume Highway east to the NSW border!  Last, it demonstrated that VicForests’ illegal logging wasn’t an isolated incident – it was widespread and was being repeated across the state; and the Court’s clarification of the law also set a precedent for the North East. 

By late 2021 the team was representing five groups, in six cases simultaneously – our three Glider cases plus Warburton Environment’s endangered Tree Geebung case, mandatory roadside buffers & overlogging in Bushfire Management Zones for Kinglake Friends of Forests, and Gliders in south Gippsland for Friends of Alberton West Forests.

Second was the teams’ meticulous preparation, leaving no stone unturned.  Their comprehensive grasp of the complexity of Victorian forest law was legendary.  Seeing them cut through the log-truck loads of papers served up by VicForests in their “defence” was both stunning and a joy to behold.  Their dissection of VicForests’ breaches of each relevant clause of the Code of Forest Practices was superb – showing VicForests forest “management” to be utterly inadequate.

We also have to thank our legal team for the big-hearted financial arrangements they offered.  We had to find substantial funds for expert witnesses, and other legal costs, but their generosity meant that small community conservation groups could be represented in Court.  We were able to stand equal to the apparently bottomless pockets of VicForests. 

Jonny was captain of our legal team.  He often worked till after 3am and was on his feet in Court by 10am.  We don’t know how he managed to argue our case so convincingly after so little sleep!  Kylie and Kwabena likewise worked tirelessly. 

Kylie asked him once if he ever slept. Jonny’s reply – When i have to.

He was also asked how he became interested in forests. He used to go camping in forests with his kids and saw the logging – ‘that bothered me‘, he said.

Note:  VicForests is continuing logging some native forests disguised as ‘salvage logging’, ‘community logging’ and ‘fire management’.  The campaign continues and in October 2023, Jonny won another injunction halting salvage logging in the Wombat Forest.  (Though the rest of the legal team is different in this case).

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