Issue 43: August 2008
It’s National Homeless Persons Week
This week (4- 10 August 2008) is National Homeless Persons Week. Events will be held around the country to highlight homelessness. See the Calendar of Events hosted by Homelessness Australia. One event is a homelessness breakfast being held at Melbourne City Mission on Thursday 7 August at 7.30 am where Linda Rubenstein, Pro Bono Director for Holding Redlich, is one of a panel of speakers.
Homeless Persons Legal Clinics now exist in four Australian States; Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia and have received strong support from the legal profession. Legal advice is given through clinics almost entirely by private lawyers acting on a pro bono basis. A broad range of law firms are involved.
Recent new clinics include one in Townsville Queensland (launched 8 May 2008) being a partnership between three community legal centres and eight private Townsville law firms and a new clinic in South Australia as part of the SA Housing Legal Clinic run out of the Welfare Rights centre. The new clinic will operate with volunteer lawyers from law firm Andersons at Uniting Care Wesley in Port Adelaide.
In Victoria, NSW and Queensland, the Clinics are coordinated by Public Interest Law Clearing Houses that provide vital training and coordination support. It is a partnership model that is successful and in National Homeless Persons Week the legal profession should be proud of its contribution.
But there is a lot more to do and this will become clearer when the submissions from many organisations to the Federal government’s Green Paper, ‘Which way home, A new approach to homelessness’, are posted on the FACSIA website. The Centre’s submission can be found on our website.
Prison: Home Away From Homelessness
“In some cases the difference between talking to some one as a prisoner and some one who is homeless is the point in time when you speak to them. Homeless people may go into custody and prisoners may come out to homelessness.”
That’s one of the observations of Suzie Forell, who has co-authored reports into the legal issues surrounding both homeless people and those in the prison system. The most recent, “Taking justice into custody: the legal needs of prisoners”, was released in June by the NSW Law and Justice Foundation of NSW and considers both the criminal law issues and the other legal problems prisoners experience.
“You speak to homeless people who have spent time in prison and you speak to prisoners who have spent time being homeless. Then there are overlays like mental illness, so that there are two or three things happening at once,” says Forell.
As well as this interchangeable life situation, many of the problems faced by both prisoners and homeless people are similar.
“People come into custody with pre-existing problems, such as high debt caused, for example, by driving-related fines and court costs. One prisoner owed nearly $50,000 to the State Debt Recovery Office. There may also be AVO issues and breaches, family-related matters, and drug and alcohol abuse.
“Some of the factors that can lead to homelessness can make a person vulnerable to incarceration. These are people whose lives have often been chaotic and out of control,” says Forell.
Even if life on the outside was reasonably stable, being imprisoned can set up a whole new set of problems, unrelated to the crime for which the sentence is being served.
“Once in prison, you are removed from society. What happens to your housing, who pays the mortgage or the rent, who looks after the kids, what about work commitments?”
As Forell points out, anyone with a secure career and family could find those elements in jeopardy if they were imprisoned. And, as many prisoners are already coming from a position of disadvantage, it means that imprisonment can carry further ‘punishment’ than that intended by the courts.
For people coming out of jail, finding housing can present a real problem.
Having been in prison makes a person more vulnerable to homelessness. In 2003, Professor Eileen Baldry found that while the homeless rate was 20% before incarceration, it nearly doubled to 38% for prisoners six months after their release.
And the more times spent in prison, the worse the outcomes for the prisoner.
“The research suggests that if you are a first timer, it is easier to muster resources and family support to meet legal bills. But when you return to prison, your finances have been depleted from the initial court costs, prisoners earn a little money, and family can be less willing and able to spend more on legal costs. So repeat incarcerations lead to increased marginalisation and increased vulnerability to homelessness,” says Forell.
Forell acknowledges that prison can be a circuit breaker, taking people out of their difficult situation, allowing them to deal with their addictions and focus on their problems. But in addition to the legal problems imprisonment may create, she says, any issues that existed on the outside are still there and will have to be faced eventually.
If these problems remain and become exacerbated, and if prison increases the likelihood of homelessness, then a prison term itself may mitigate against rehabilitation.
Discrimination on the basis of homelessness could be outlawed in Victoria
‘After 6 years of lobbying for change, we are thrilled with the Report’s recommendation that discrimination on the basis of homelessness be outlawed,” said Caroline Adler, Manager of PILCH’s Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic in Victoria.
The release of the Equal Opportunity Review Final Report: An Equality Act for a Fairer Victoria marks the end of the independent Review of the Equal Opportunity Act 1995, conducted by Mr Julian Gardner.
An Equality Act for a Fairer Victoria took into account consideration of submissions received in response to the Discussion Paper (released in November 2007) and the Options Paper (released in March 2008) and input received through meetings and consultations with a range of stakeholders including business and community groups.
The Report was presented to the Attorney-General in June 2008 and launched on 31 July 2008. It is available for download from the Victorian DOJ site.
UK pro bono envoy appointed to new Legal Services Board
The new overarching regulator of legal services has been established in England with the aim of simplifying legislation and putting ‘the consumer first’.
The Board will be fully operational in 2010, and the first nine members have been appointed. They include Michael Napier QC, a senior law firm partner with Irwin Mitchell and the UK Attorney-General’s pro bono envoy.
Napier, who has assisted the Australian legal profession with policy issues a number of times, sits on the AG’s Pro Bono Committee which consists of representatives from the main pro bono provider groups, the voluntary advice sector and the legal professional bodies.
The aim of the committee is to co-ordinate the delivery of pro bono legal services nationally and to facilitate the provision of pro bono initiatives. It promotes the view that pro bono work helps to tackle social exclusion.
Pro Bono and Legal Ethics – International Legal Ethics Conference
The third International Legal Ethics Conference was held on the Gold Coast 13-16 July, hosted by the TC Beirne School of Law at the University of Queensland and Griffith University. Speakers at the conference included some of the world’s leading scholars on legal ethics, including Deborah Rhode, from Stanford Law School, David Luban from Georgetown University Law School and Brad Wendel from Cornell University. The conference attracted over 200 participants from all over the world.
The conference program featured a wide selection of streams with topics ranging from ‘Character and Virtue’ and ‘Contemporary Legal Practice’ to ‘Ethical conduct in Fiction’. One of the most popular streams of the conference was on the topic of Large Law Firms, in which the Centre also presented a paper on the results of the national survey on law firms’ attitudes to pro bono, analysing 25 of the country’s largest firms. The report of the survey results will be published by the centre by the end of August 2008.
In addition to the Centre’s presentation on survey results, pro bono was the topic of a number of other papers given at the conference. Professor Lorne Sossin from the University of Toronto discussed the relationship between the legal profession and the public interest with a view to highlighting the two different perspectives from which pro bono can be viewed – that of the lawyer and that of the client. Amanda Donnelly and Giles Watson from the Queensland Law Society presented a paper on ‘Re-thinking pro bono and professional responsibility’, in which they discussed the efficiency of pro bono programs compared to Corporate Social Responsibility programs, comparing the benefit to the community through the market value of the services delivered.
All presentations sparked lively discussions on pro bono as a professional responsibility, its role in the legal profession, the legal system and in facilitating access to justice. Beyond the practical delivery of pro bono legal services by law firms, solicitors and barristers across Australia, pro bono is a topic of great interest and discussion to the academic community and especially, legal ethicists.
It’s a Giving Thing
Women and men do it differently – philanthropy, that is.
While individuals, no matter what their sex, all have their own way of giving and to whom, women as a whole prefer to work in groups or with the support of other women.
That’s the finding of PhD student Barbara Lemon who completed research into the question of how women give. And she searched back over 120 years of giving to find out.
So how do women give as a group?
“A literal example is the group of about seven young women in their 30s who get together and decide how and where they will give, pooling their funds,” says Lemon.
“There are also support groups for women in philanthropy such as the Women Donors Network run by ex-lawyer Eve Mahlab.”
Lemon says that there is a strong history of women’s volunteerism, which we see in their committee work and women’s organisations. She believes that philanthropy is part of the same trend – but with more money. As women entered the paid workforce, their opportunities for philanthropy increased.
“We’ve inherited a lot of American traditions but they have much better public support groups for philanthropists,” says Lemon.
Researching the Australian situation was made more difficult by the fact that our philanthropic women want to keep a low profile. Much of their giving is not easily discovered on the public record. In the US, says Lemon, there is less concern with anonymity. She believes that there is probably some truth to the notion that the ‘tall poppy syndrome applies here. “Women don’t want to be seen as show-offs. There’s a bit of a stigma there.”
Another reason why women have been reluctant to put their name to their giving is that their money is often inherited or a result of being married. “There’s a sense that it’s not really mine and they are holding back from taking the credit.”
Lemon says that the process of uncovering our women philanthropists was something like the ‘snowball effect’. “I might get referred to someone and I would have to convince them that I was really interested in their philanthropy. It was a matter of getting inside. Then I might get lucky and obtain access to the archives of a philanthropic fund.”
Lemon describes Australian history as a great river of giving with islands dotted through it. Some of those ‘islands’are donors such as Lady Janet Clarke, a big social figure in the 1880s who founded the Melbourne University residential college Janet Clarke Hall, and Dame Elisabeth Murdoch. But many have been forgotten for their philanthropic work – if indeed they were ever known – and Lemon sees bringing them to the fore as a way of encouraging other women to join them. She produced a documentary which aired on ABC Radio earlier this year and a couple of people came forward and made contact with Philanthropy Australia.
Among some of her favourite philanthropists, Lemon cites Anne Bon who, though she lived in the 19thC, was not a woman of her time. “She was a widow from a young age and worked her large farming property in North Eastern Victoria. She established a school for Chinese children, a home for the sick and needy, and was the only woman on the Board for Protection of Aborigines in the early 20thC. Bon helped the Aboriginal people near her home with her time and money.
“There’s also Dr Una Porter, daughter of Fred Cato who co-owned the large grocery chain Moran & Cato. She completed her medical degree during the 30s amongst much criticism, and gave away quietly over a million pounds to institutions such as universities and hospitals. She’s was, at one stage, World President of the YWCA. Jill Reichstein went onto the board of her father’s foundation and bucked the system, overturning a fairly stuffy foundation into one of social change philanthropy that really stands out as an inspiration for others,” says Lemon.
Talking about these women inspires Lemon herself, who finds it hard to limit the roll-call of her favourites.
“Trisha Broadbridge is a great hero of mine, setting up a fund in memory of her husband after the 2004 Tsunami and building a school in Thailand, and she’s only in her 20s. Author Barbara Blackman is a particular favourite – she gave $1million to music, including a large donation recently to the Australian Chamber Orchestra. More than that, I like the fact that she has been giving $1,000 a year for the past 25 years to someone who needs a little pick-me-up. It could be a hard-working musician who needs a new jacket, or someone whose house burnt down to buy new shoes. I just like the idea, and I have immense respect for her.”
Research Officer (Legal) at the National Pro Bono Resource Centre
Solicitor–in-Charge, Carnarvon with the West Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service
Solicitor –Top End Women’s Legal Service (TEWLS)
Pro Bono in the News — August 2008
Jigalong calls in lawyers on State ‘neglect’ (thewest.com.au, 1 July)
Canberra softens on pro bono (The Australian, 4 July)
Rebels owe their swollen numbers to nuisance laws (The Australian, 5 July)
Reinado’s lover Angelita Pires left in legal limbo (The Australian, 12 July)
Coverage of the pope’s visit (Crikey, 14 July)
‘Nude’ teacher to sue over sacking (SMH, 16 July)
Institute urges tax breaks for pro bono lawyers (AFR, 25 July)
Rounded experience and social networking on the summer agenda (The Australian, 25 July)
A man has won retrial over the death of his father (Brisbane Courier Mail, 25 July)
Events and Activities – Melbourne Citymission Homelessness Breakfast (Community News Info Xchange, 29 July)