Contributed by Joe Montero
It is said that in Australia everyone’s equal before the law. Real life show you have a much better chance of purchasing justice if you are wealthy.
This has been brought to light in two cases involving mining tycoon Adani and opponents of the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland.
Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owner Adrian Burragubba fought three legal cases, lost, and faced costs of $680,000 submitted by Adani. Burragubba didn’t have the means to pay and Adani had him made bankrupt.
Photo by Talissa Siganto/ABC News: Adrian Burragubba
Environmental campaigner Ben Pennings has been ordered to pay a $420,603.72 part of the $800,000 in the costs claimed by Adani, for just one day in court. He doesn’t have the money and faces the prospect of losing his home.
Observers have noted the size of the costs claimed.
Adani has refused to provide details on how they were calculated, and the law
Supporters of Ben Penning are asking for donations to help him.
Photo from the Townsville Bulletin: Ben Pennings
A third case might shed some light onto the matter of corporate legal costs
I found myself in court with four others, over a case involving the New York based Morgan Stanley bank. The reason was their involvement in the sale of Victoria’s electricity generation and distribution network to private corporations.
I conducted the defence for the week the trial lasted, which means, we didn’t have lawyers.
Morgan Stanley had three specialist barristers and an army of solicitors. This case was made more complex. Morgan Stanley, we believed, hoped that throwing this much into a minor yet awkward case would intimidate and win the day for them.
Directly relevant to the two other cases is that the high powered members of Morgan Stanley’s legal team attracted a hefty price, hundreds of dollars apiece for every hour.
We were lucky. Morgan Stanley’s argument was demolished. We weren’t hit with costs. If it had gone the other way, we could easily have ended up where Adrian Burragubba and Ben Pennings found themselves.
It is through differences the capacity to spend means that the wealthy can use the law to their advantage. They can buy expertise in the intricacies of the law and negotiation of legal process.
Wealth brings power and connections. Those who have these are more likely to get a sympathetic hearing from the bench. Friends can apply political pressure and get sympathetic media coverage.
There’s been plenty of both with Adani.
Equality before the law means equal access to justice is a reality. We don’t have this in Australia.
Legal aid came into existence to provide a level of protection against this. Funding cutbacks and restrictions have rendered this much less effective.
Manipulation of the law is used to counter those fighting to shift Australia from fossil fuel dependency to a sustainable future.
Standing against this is part of the battle to prevent catastrophic climate warming.
This must be brought to the light of public attention.