A Big Forest & Freedom of Speech Protected in a Marathon Legal Battle

The tables turned this week in a four-year long legal action against The Wilderness Society (Australia). In one of the biggest legal fiascos in Australia, Gunns Ltd has now succumbed to their legal claims aimed at keeping environmental protestors away from Tasmania’s old growth forests. Gunns, Ltd, a woodchip company, sought to log these old growth forests. The Wilderness Society (Australia), a community based environmental protection organization, works with the support of thousands of concerned people across Australia to protect millions of hectares of great, wild places.

TWS and its supporters couldn’t stand by and let this happen, so they took action. In a not uncommon series of events, Gunns Ltd took legal recourse in hopes of quieting protestors, and launched direct claims against 20 leaders and protestors associated with TWS. So started a marathon legal case, which ended this week. The Wilderness Society was victorious, and the freedom speech in Australia remains strong.

Alec Marr of The Wilderness Foundation comments that, “Unfortunately the scars from four years of defending against nonsense will remain for some time. Many lives have been deeply affected by the sort of legal action that Gunns has pursued and there are still seven remaining defendants, despite today’s (positive) outcome.” Of the original “Gunns 20,” the twenty protestors and leaders charged in the case, seven claims remain unsettled including claims against Greens leader, Bob Brow and the Huon Valley Environmental Center. Speculation early this week shows that these claims will likely collapse as a result of the settlement.

Press on the issue can be rather confusing, as Gunns is also claiming victory in the case. How they rationalize that, I’m not sure. The Wilderness Society did have to pay Gunns, Ltd a sum of $25,000 for damages caused by a protest in Tasmania’s Styx Valley (November 2003), but the major victory here is in the hands of The Wilderness Society and their supporters.  Gunns has more than a few other legal cases such as this in the works right now…

As a result of this victory, TWS is explicitly free to continue protesting, and this marathon legal case has stimulated conversation and action to protect freedom of speech and public demonstration in Australia. Last August, the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) Assembly became the first in the country to pass a bill to “protect public participation, and discourage certain civil proceedings that a reasonable person would consider interfere with engagement in public participation.”

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