Award winning free legal advice service will tackle environmental issues

Issue date: 16 November 2011


The award winning Community Legal Advice and Representation Service (CLARS) of Bristol Law School (UWE Bristol) is launching an exciting new collaborative service which will address environmental issues in Bristol and the South West.

The new Environmental Justice Partnership is an exciting and innovative collaboration between UWE Bristol, Bristol Green Capital and the Environmental Law Foundation. The Service offers a focal point to gather and address all environmental issues affecting Bristol and the South West to serve the interests of individuals as well as social and business communities.

CLARS has won national recognition for its free legal advice and representation service to the Bristol and wider South West community, which would otherwise be without legal representation. CLARS was named winner in the Attorney-General Pro-Bono awards 2011 and Runner-up in The Lawyer Awards 2011.

Stephen Migdal, (Bristol Law School) says of the new Environmental Justice Partnership, “Bristol is well-blessed with a number of nationwide specialist environmental law firms of solicitors which, however, are primarily corporate-based. One of the key objectives of the Environmental Justice Partnership is for a 'street-scale' service providing free legal information, advice and referrals service linked to the Environmental Law Foundation network which would service the interests of non-corporate clients.

“For example we are currently advising local councils and action groups in North Somerset on the legalities of overground pylons connecting Bristol to a prospective out of town power station. This raises all kinds of legal issues, common law, statutory, domestic and European which corporate environmental lawyers would expect clients to pay for. It is hoped that the dispute can be resolved without litigation, and no matter how rich the clients, individually or collectively, it is very attractive for them to have pro bono advice from a legal team which is looking to put into practice challenging legal concepts (such as the common law doctrines of public trust and waste which have medieval origins but remain untested in modern times). The pro bono legal team consists of trainee lawyers supervised by academics and supported by practising barristers of the Western Circuit.”

The new Partnership will offer much more than a purely reactive legal advice service. As well as meeting the need for legal advice for specific practical problems, for example nuisance or a specific development consent application, the new partnership will provide a proactive pro bono (ie free) advice system that will enable citizens to participate in strategic environmental decision making. The Localism Bill 2011 (due to be enacted before the end of the year) means that communities and individuals will be more involved in decisions relating to the environment in their communities. As well as this significant change, the revising of local air quality strategies under the EA 1995, waste plans under the EPA 1990, and other statutory environmental plans demand legal expertise being matched to individuals and neighbourhoods in ways that only a pro bono service can offer.

A central administrative hub for the new service will be located at UWE Bristol co-coordinating all the activities of the Partnership, including, free legal advice, assistance and representation, publicising environmental issues, offering free Q & A clinics and initiating and supporting campaigns.


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