At an event held on 15 February 2017 at the Banco Court in Brisbane, the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH)’s new name, LawRight, was launched by The Honourable Catherine Holmes, Chief Justice of Queensland. In detailing the history between QPILCH and various current and past members of the Supreme, District and Federal courts, Her Honour highlighted how important these relationships have been for QPILCH, and will continue to be for Law Right, particularly for its Self Representation Service in the courts and at QCAT.
For some of the speakers, it was with a tinge of sadness that the QPILCH name disappeared into the annals of pro bono history. However, LawRight President, barrister Matthew Jones, explained that after 15 years the idea of a Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) is historical, and the new breed of pro bono organisations such as Justice Connect, Justice Net SA, Law Access in WA, and now LawRight have developed well beyond being mere pro bono clearing houses. They are now service providers in their own right with a broader range of projects and programs. He said the name LawRight was chosen to better communicate to the public the organisation’s role and function.
Damien O’Brien QC for the Bar Association of Queensland and Christine Smyth, President of the Queensland Law Society also spoke of the importance that LawRight plays in helping the community at large get better access to justice.
The keynote speakers for the night were journalist Peter Greste, and Gilbert + Tobin partner Christopher Flynn, who led the international team of lawyers that secured Peter Greste’s freedom from prison in Egypt. Peter took advantage of the captive audience of lawyers to warn of the dangers of function-creep of the many Australian anti-terrorist laws. He gave the example of the metadata laws, ostensibly designed as an anti-terrorist measure, but already used to obtain metadata from medical staff on Manus Island for the purpose of trying to identify a journalist’s source. Peter also talked of a changing world with changing values to emphasise the importance of the work that LawRight and the pro bono community does in seeking to provide better access to justice for the disadvantaged and marginalised; to uphold the best of the values in Australian society.
Christopher Flynn said he didn’t hesitate when G+T managing partner Danny Gilbert suggested he act pro bono to try and secure Peter’s release, and outlined what a personally rewarding experience the case had been. He talked of the importance of the pro bono culture at his firm and across the legal profession. Chris spoke of the disruptions facing the profession and focused on global re-distributions of power, their impact on western democracy and the profession’s role in maintaining the rule of law and access to justice.
The event marked another important milestone in the growing maturity of the pro bono culture in Queensland, and in Australia.