This August, I ran a half day workshop, jointly hosted by the Australian Earth Laws Alliance (AELA) and the Centre for Resources, Energy and Environment Law (CREEL) at the Melbourne Law School. This workshop was open to the public, and was so popular that we had to institute a wait list! We perhaps should have picked a bigger room...
A group of 55 academics, practitioners, policy makers, students and environmental advocates gathered together to hear more from leading scholars on the emerging jurisprudence of legal rights for nature, and how this concept is being applied to rivers around the world, and here in Australia.
This week, I published an article in Global Water Forum summarising the outcomes of the workshop. There is widespread interest in the implications of extending legal rights to rivers, especially because although these developments have vested legal personality in the river itself, the basis for this often rests in non-Western values. In New Zealand, the Whanganui River was given legal personality to reflect the Maori world view, and as an acknowledgment that the Crown was not the 'owner' of the river. There is a real danger that in attempting to use a distinctly Western legal framework (the legal person, most often associated with corporations) to give force and effect to non-Western perspectives, the origins of the legal rights may be obscured.
The detailed workshop report, as well as copies of presentations (and recordings of some of the speakers), can all be found on the CREEL website.