Introduction to the Land and Environment Court
On 1 September 1980, the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales was established as a central facility to oversee environmental, planning, land, mining, and building matters – the first specialist environmental court in the world.
Created by the Land and Environment Court Act 1979 (NSW), it simplified the court structure of Australia by focusing on a range of matters which were previously heard in various courts and tribunals. Previously, it meant that:
- Land and Valuation Court – dealt with valuation, compulsory acquisition, and land matters.
- Supreme Court of NSW and Valuation Boards of Review – dealt with title issues.
- Local Government Appeals Tribunal – dealt with building, subdivision, and development matters.
- Supreme Court of NSW – dealt with civil (equitable) enforcement and judicial review of both government and tribunal decisions.
- Local Court and District Court of NSW – dealt with criminal enforcement.
- Environmental laws were non-existent.
Currently, the Land and Environment Court has broad and exclusive jurisdiction in relation to environmental, planning, land, mining, and building matters. Generally, it includes:
- Merits reviews;
- Judicial reviews;
- Civil enforcement;
- Criminal prosecution;
- Criminal appeals; and
- Civil claims.
Other courts and tribunals are barred from exercising any jurisdiction in relation to environmental, planning, and land matters which have been conferred to the Land and Environment Court.
In overseeing matters between parties, the Court itself must aim to ensure that:
- Justice is accessible;
- Everyone is equal before the law;
- Public resources are not carelessly expended;
- The rule of law is maintained and safeguarded;
- The overall process is transparent, timely, and certain;
- The outcome was reached in an unbiased, impartial, and fair manner; and
- Judges, commissioners, and support staff achieve a high standard of competency and integrity.
The Jurisdiction of the Land and Environment Court
The Land and Environment Court has jurisdiction in relation to appeals and review of matters concerning planning, building, environmental, mining, and ancillary issues.
The Land and Environment Act 1979 (NSW) categorises the jurisdiction of the Court into eight classes, namely:
- Class 1: Environmental planning and protection appeals.
- Class 2: Local government and miscellaneous appeals and applications.
- Class 3: Land tenure, valuation, rating, and compensation matters.
- Class 4: Environmental planning and protection, development contract and strata renewal plan civil enforcement.
- Class 5: Environmental planning and protection summary enforcement.
- Class 6: Appeals from convictions relating to environmental offences.
- Class 7: Other appeals relating to environmental offences.
- Class 8: Mining matters.
The Court Structure of Australia and the Land and Environment Court
Criminal Jurisdiction: Classes 5, 6, and 7
The Land and Environment Court for criminal-related proceedings is the second stage of the overall court process, being as follows:
- Local Court of NSW;
- Land and Environment Court of NSW;
- NSW Court of Criminal Appeal; and
- High Court of Australia.
Appeals heard in the Land and Environment Court in relation to environmental offences under the Crimes (Appeal and Review) Act 2001 (NSW) are categorised into classes 6 and 7.
Appeals heard in the NSW Court of Criminal appeal will be matters that are categorised into classes 5,6, and 7.
In the Supreme Court, parties may make an application to have the proceedings transferred to the Land and Environment Court. It is also possible that the Supreme Court may come to the opinion that the proceedings could or should have been commenced in the Land and Environment Court, therefore transfer the proceedings themselves.
Civil Jurisdiction: Classes 1 ,2, 3, 4, and 8
The Land and Environment Court for civil-related proceedings is the first stage of the overall court process, being as follows:
- Land and Environment court of NSW,
- NSW Court of Appeal,
- High Court of Australia.
Appeals heard in the NSW Court of Appeal will be proceedings that are in relation to classes 1, 2, 3, 4, and 8.
The Land and Environment Court or the Supreme Court may order that proceedings are to be transferred to the other court if they are satisfied that it would be more appropriate to have the matter heard in the other court. This may occur as a result of an application by either party involved, or on the Courts own volition. The Court, which is the recipient of the transferred proceedings will, in relation to the matter, be vested with all of the jurisdictions of the court which has transferred the proceedings.
JB Solicitors – How We Can Help You
JB Solicitors is a firm of highly skilled and experienced lawyers and are prepared to assist you with proceedings appearing before the Land and Environment Court of NSW.