This all-woman legal team consists of passionate and experienced attorneys who represent those who cannot afford legal services.
South Africa (09 June 2021) – ALL RISE, a non-profit organisation and registered law clinic for climate and environmental justice, have launched in KZN, becoming the only pro bono attorneys in the province working exclusively in the environmental field. It is one of a few in the country assisting communities and organisations assert their Constitutional right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.
This all-woman legal team consists of passionate and experienced attorneys who represent those who cannot afford legal services. ALL RISE takes on other matters of public interest, offering legal advice on a range of environmental and climate change issues, litigating when necessary, and providing representation in environmental impact assessment (EIA) processes and administrative appeals. The team provide community support and training as well as advocacy for wildlife and the environment, which currently have no independent legal status.
ALL RISE has identified a number of challenges that it seeks to rectify through the newly formed law clinic:
- Lack of access to the legal system to enforce environmental rights and very few pro bono attorneys to do the necessary work.
- People not knowing and understanding their rights and the processes through which they are entitled to express their views and exercise such rights.
- Environmental issues not being given the same weight and attention as other issues.
- Government not having the capacity or the will to adequately protect the environment and people’s rights, especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged.
- The urgency of addressing climate change.
“South Africa has one of the best Constitutions in the world. Our Bill of Rights encompasses fundamental rights to life and equality; to food, water and housing; and to an environment that is not harmful to one’s health or well-being. The challenge lies in enforcing these rights. Rights on paper are not enough. Without lawyers acting pro bono and generous funders who can cover the high costs of litigation and client engagement, it is impossible to put these rights, so eloquently set out in the Constitution, into effect.” Kirsten Youens and Janice Tooley, attorneys, directors and founders of ALL RISE.
This dynamic team has made significant impact on environmental law issues over the last few years that have gained national and international attention, particularly in the fossil fuel, wildlife and marine space.
Most of their energies so far have been directed towards a number of coal mines in Northern KZN which adversely impact rural communities, the iconic Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, and the Mfolozi and Nyalazi River catchments which feed into the southern part of the iSimangaliso World Heritage Site and the St Lucia System Ramsar Site.
Of these mines, the most intensive matters to date have been the two High Court challenges brought against Tendele and its Somkhele open cast coal mine. This has been done on behalf the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), comprising over 3,000 members, as well as the Global Environmental Trust (GET), ActionAid South Africa, Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA), and the Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network, all of which have a long association with MCEJO and supporting its members in their fight against the environmental and social injustices.
Undeterred after losing in the lower courts, the first case is being taken to the Constitutional Court on appeal and is currently awaiting a hearing. The second case, which is a review application challenging Tendele’s 2016 mining right, will be heard in the Pretoria High Court on 6 and 7 October.
The ALL RISE team and especially its clients face ongoing challenges both in and outside of the courtroom, including threats and acts of violence. Tragically, one of MCEJO’s long-standing members was murdered in October 2020 for being very vocal in her opposition to the mine. Other members have been shot at and assaulted, and many more are constantly under threat for exercising their rights.
ALL RISE sees the safety and well-being of clients as a crucial and unique service they provide. Lihle Mbokazi is ALL RISE’s Liaison Manager who, together with Sheila Berry of GET, organise community meetings, training, provide trauma counselling and facilitate access to security measures offered by partner organisations.
“Being witness to the injustices in northern KZN was the turning point for us, and where our law careers became our passion. We realised the positive impact we could have on thousands of people who don’t have access to the information or legal support they need to advocate for their own rights. And that we could play the role of educator, rights defender and ally. Combining our environmental and human rights activism with the law has made us even more committed to our profession. We will continue to fight on behalf of those who can’t. And we will bring about the changes that we envision. Both for people and for the planet.“ Kirsten Youens, ALL RISE Founder, Director and Attorney.
ALL RISE aims to combat climate change and promote environmental justice to protect people, wild species and the planet; to empower people to understand and enforce their Constitutional Rights; and to advance law and practice by promoting best and better practice in EIAs, public participation and decision-making.
“It has taken many years of hard work to get to this point and we could not have done it without support from other lawyers, organisations and individuals – far too many to mention them all here by name. Public interest law and social justice is a collaborative effort and we are a perfect example of just how important that is”. Janice Tooley, ALL RISE Co-Founder and Attorney.