Book Review: The Precautionary Principle in Practice
The “precautionary principle” is found in several important pieces of Queensland environmental legislation as well as in the laws of many other jurisdictions. For example, section 1.2.3(2) of the Integrated Planning Act 1997 (Qld) adopts the national approach by defining it as a principle “that lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing a measure to prevent degradation of the environment if there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage.” It has featured in some notable court decisions (such as Leatch v National Parks & Wildlife Service (1993) 81 LGERA 270 (NSWLEC) per Stein J). While it rarely seems decisive in government or court decisions it is an important principle of modern environmental and health laws.
Jacqueline Peel’s new book is a very well-written account of the precautionary principle and its application in international and Australian courts. A particular feature of her work is her ability to synthesise and explain complex scientific and legal issues.
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 explores uncertainty in the decision-making environment and includes a succinct and very useful explanation of uncertainty in science. Part 2 considers the practical difficulties of anticipating threats of damage and uses examples from fisheries management and mobile phone towers. Part 3 considers how to implement precaution in decision-making frameworks and practice using examples of genetically modified organisms and environmental impact assessment.
Lawyers, judges, government officials and scientists who are required to apply the precautionary principle in practice will find this book a very useful reference.