Story 11: Relieving an Unfair Financial Burden on a Refugee

2020: South Australia

Angelique* first came to The Accessible Justice Project (AJP) in November 2020 on the recommendation of her disability support worker. Angelique came from a refugee background and had some difficulty understanding English. She was unemployed and living with a disability. She was financially supporting her two children with her only income being a disability support pension.

Angelique was being charged excessive fees and treated unfairly under an exploitative agreement she had signed a decade earlier. She was ineligible for free legal help and was unable to afford a private lawyer.

Angelique felt vulnerable, and embarrassed that she had been misled into signing a document that she did not understand. At times, she was unable to purchase food for her two children as a consequence of the ongoing and excessive money being withdrawn from her account without her knowledge or understanding.

As a result, Angelique met with the lawyers at the AJP to discuss her matter, who listened to her story and provided advice as to her legal rights. The AJP were able to assist her by engaging in pre-action negotiation with the other party on her behalf and resolving her matter with a favourable financial settlement. Angelique was pleased with the outcome and was relieved that her financial stress was greatly reduced.

If it wasn’t for the provision of pro bono, or ‘low bono’, services, Angelique may have remained unaware of her legal rights and not otherwise received such an outcome, which removed the unfair financial burden and allowed her to focus more on her family instead. The AJP operates as a ‘low bono’, not-for-profit legal practice, which charges fees at approximately a quarter of the cost of a private lawyer.

The AJP offers assistance in a range of civil disputes for people who are ineligible for publicly funded legal assistance but are unable to afford the cost of a private lawyer, a group sometimes referred to as the ‘missing middle’. Since the AJP launched 18 months ago, it has seen over 200 clients who have experienced their own barriers to obtaining legal advice.

The AJP is proud to be able to contribute to the pro bono community in South Australia, and will continue to provide these services as a contribution to promote access to justice.

*Name changed to protect privacy

This story was submitted by The Accessible Justice Project, which is a collaboration between the University of Adelaide and LK Law.

Story 4: Refugee Legal Clinic Involves Hundreds of Pro Bono Lawyers

2016 – Ongoing: Victoria

Refugee Legal logo

Lander & Rogers has worked in partnership with Refugee Legal for over ten years to provide critical legal help, under Refugee Legal’s supervision, for people seeking asylum, refugees, and vulnerable migrants.

In 2015, the Federal Government began processing the cases of 31,000 people seeking asylum who arrived by boat in Australia between 13 August 2012 and 1 January 2014 under the newly-introduced Fast Track Assessment process. This complex and onerous process with limited means of review required completion of forms containing numerous pages of detailed and technical questions, all in English. Concurrently, the funding of legal assistance for these people who had arrived by boat was cut.

Following the introduction of the Fast Track Assessment process, Lander & Rogers’ collaboration with Refugee Legal strengthened to address an unprecedented level of demand experienced by Refugee Legal, with more than 11,000 asylum seekers in Victoria requiring legal assistance.

This demand increased further when, early in 2017, the government imposed a 1 October 2017 deadline for lodging applications.

Refugee Legal worked with Lander & Rogers to strengthen its existing legal clinic model ─ pioneered by Refugee Legal more than 15 years earlier ─ to develop a new corporate clinic program. Rather than individual pro bono volunteers participating on weekends, the program was designed to recruit corporate law firms to provide regular volunteers to assist Refugee Legal to staff each clinic, matching crucial legal need with pro bono lawyer capacity.   

The clinic program exponentially increased both the number of lawyers volunteering for Refugee Legal and the number of people they assisted.  The model has transformed the delivery of quality legal services to asylum seekers and displaced people and is now adopted worldwide by NGOs and identified by the UNHCR as best practice.

In 2020-21, the Refugee Legal Clinic model provided more than 3,000 instances of legal assistance and included hundreds of lawyers from 18 pro bono law firms. The model is used to address other areas of high-volume legal need, including:

  • The Fast Track Clinic: Assisting people on temporary visas subject to the Fast Track Assessment process
  • Afghanistan Clinic: Assisting with the emergency evacuation of hundreds of people from Kabul in August 2021, and providing legal assistance to people in Australia impacted by the crisis in Afghanistan
  • Myanmar Clinic: Providing legal assistance to people in Australia impacted by the crisis in Myanmar with onshore protection applications
  • Family Violence Clinic: Providing legal assistance to women on temporary visas who have experienced family violence.

In 2016, the key people involved included David Burke and Jo Renkin from Lander & Rogers, and David Manne and Bianca De Toma from Refugee Legal.

In 2022, Ben Goulding heads up the Legal Clinic program and Harmonie Cribbes is the Volunteer Coordinator.

This story was submitted by Lander & Rogers.

Story 18: Low Bono Employment Law Assistance for the Missing Middle

2020-Present: New South Wales

Sparke Helmore Lawyers partnered with Marrickville Legal Centre (MLC) in the development of the Marrickville Low Bono Employment Service (Low Bono), which launched in early 2020.

Low Bono is an innovative service providing employment law assistance to the “missing middle”—a large section of the community who cannot afford professional legal advice but who also don’t meet Legal Aid or pro bono eligibility tests. The service addresses a large gap in access to justice for low-income earners with a model that provides affordable and significantly reduced fixed-fee representation to clients who, before its launch, would not have had access to community legal services. The fees collected from Low Bono are then directed into MLC’s 100% pro bono programs.

This service not only provides access to justice to a segment of society that is often forgotten by mainstream pro bono services, but it was also established as a new wave of vulnerable workers emerged during the pandemic. With increasing employment uncertainty throughout COVID-19 and related lockdowns, Low Bono has been crucial to ensuring the “missing middle” are aware of their rights and options for recourse.

Sparke Helmore Lawyers manage rotating secondments to Low Bono, where their lawyers take phone calls from clients categorised as the “missing middle”, then provide employment advice to them and advocate for clients at conciliations, under the supervision of MLC. The types of matters the secondees work on include general protections claims, unfair dismissals, Australian Human Rights Commission complaints, underpayment claims and stop bullying applications. Sparke Helmore Lawyers has provided 8 secondments since Low Bono’s launch, with the lawyers providing up to 30 hours of assistance a week.

Since the launch of Low Bono, MLC has represented almost 200 clients through this program and has recovered over $1.7 million for its clients. MLC has also recovered over $75,000 in fees from clients, which it will use to further its pro bono legal services for clients suffering significant disadvantage.

This story was submitted by Sparke Helmore Lawyers.

Story 1: Empowering our Elderly

2021: New South Wales

George on the day of release from the locked dementia unit

In late 2020, Justice Connect sought the assistance of Makinson d’Apice (Makdap) for a client – George – who was experiencing elder abuse. George had suddenly disappeared from his usual social outings and was located by police in a locked dementia ward. This made no sense to those who knew George to be an independent, capable member of the community.

Some years earlier, George made a will naming his niece – Barbara – as a beneficiary. Barbara was also appointed as George’s Enduring Power of Attorney (EPOA) and Enduring Guardian (EG), should George lose capacity to make decisions.

George and Barbara’s relationship subsequently deteriorated. At some point, Barbara organised and accompanied George to a series of doctor’s appointments and told him not to speak. Barbara told the doctors that George had developed dementia, which wasn’t the case.

George suspected that Barbara had ulterior motives such as trying to bring the EPOA and EG into effect and preventing George from removing Barbara from his will.

Once Barbara was in possession of medical reports to support her claim, she drove George to a locked dementia unit against his will.

Barbara took George’s phone book with his friends’ contact details and instructed staff that George wasn’t to have any visitors.

George’s friend, Sasha, located George with the assistance of police. She contacted the NSW Ageing & Disability Commission and Seniors Rights Service who referred the matter to Justice Connect.

Makdap’s involvement

George contested Barbara’s guardianship at three New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) hearings. At the first hearing, George was unrepresented and without his hearing aids. He wasn’t successful.

Erin Dawson, a Senior Associate at Makdap, represented George in the two subsequent NCAT hearings. She organised numerous independent medical reports from geriatricians. George, with the support of Erin and Sasha, was able to tell the truth of how he had been wrongfully locked in a dementia ward, deprived of his freedom and his wishes ignored.

NCAT removed Barbara as George’s guardian and determined that George has full capacity to make decisions about all aspects of his life.

Erin Dawson
Senior Associate

George was released from the locked dementia unit in late 2021 and now lives in an open aged care facility which is close to his friends and community. George is free to come and go as he pleases – he can go for walks and meet with his friends and manage his affairs as he sees fit.

It was a privilege to represent George so that he can live out the remainder of his life with choice, freedom and dignity.

This story was submitted by Makinson d’Apice.

Story 2: Copyright in the Aboriginal Flag

2020-2022: National

Mr Harold Thomas signing the momentous agreement on 21 January 2022

There is no symbol of Aboriginal identity in this country more powerful than the Australian Aboriginal Flag. Corrs had the great privilege of acting for Mr Harold Thomas, its creator, on the deal to assign copyright in the Flag to the Commonwealth.

When Corrs started acting for Mr Thomas in 2020, it was clear the parties needed to resolve the issues underpinning the Free the Flag movement, in the unusual situation where the national flag’s copyright was privately held.

After a three-week Senate Inquiry, and over two years of detailed negotiations with the Commonwealth, led by Corrs, a deal was reached which:

  • respects and truly acknowledges the Indigenous communities at the heart of the Flag’s unparalleled significance;
  • allows the Flag to be used by all Australians; and
  • respects the value of this artistic work.

The deal also significantly contributes to the public interest: Mr Thomas is donating $2 million to establish a not-for-profit which will make periodic disbursements in the interest of Aboriginal Australians, the Commonwealth is directing all future Flagworld royalties to support the NAIDOC Committee’s ongoing work, and the Commonwealth is also funding a $100,000 annual scholarship to further Indigenous governance and leadership.

The $20.05 million transaction included a payment to Mr Thomas for the copyright assignment and buy-out of the licences.  As part of the transfer, Mr Thomas retains his moral rights in the Flag, including the right of integrity.

Mr Harold Thomas’ artwork gifted to the Commonwealth as part of the deal for display at Parliament House

Colin Golvan AM QC originally referred the matter to Corrs and, in total, over nine partners and 15 lawyers across Corrs’ IP, Tax, Projects, and Corporate teams were involved. The matter was led by Chrystal Dare and Kate Hay.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison received regular updates on the negotiations, and on 25 January 2022 announced the deal, which is an event of great historical significance.

Mr Thomas, could not be happier with the result. He says, ‘[t]he Flag represents the timeless history of our land and our people’s time on it. It carries the message that there is a uniting symbol and voice for all Indigenous people, and I hope that this arrangement allows the Aboriginal Flag to breathe a new life in itself.’

This story was submitted by Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

Story 12: Bullying & Harassment – Representing Quaden and Yarraka Bayles

2020-2021: Queensland

Quaden Bayles with the Indigenous All-Stars

The joint pro bono representation of Quaden and Yarraka Bayles by law firm K&L Gates and public relations and strategic communications firm Sefiani (with lead counsel National Justice Project) was an exemplar to both industries of the synergistic excellence to be achieved and leveraged on clients’ behalf, particularly in areas lacking strong regulation and enforcement.

Quaden is a young Indigenous Australian who suffers from a rare case of dwarfism and other health issues. At 9, Quaden’s story went viral and global following the release of a video filmed by his mother and anti-bullying advocate, Yarraka, of a distressed Quaden following extensive bullying and harassment. Support came from all angles, including from the National Rugby League, who invited Quaden to lead out the Indigenous All-Stars team in the annual All-Stars Game. A GoFundMe page was started by US comedian Brad Williams raising over $460,000 USD in funds to support Quaden. However, this outpouring of support also led to a deluge of threatening, racist and/or defamatory photos, comments and accounts on various social media platforms endeavouring to undermine the family’s intent.

Client Quaden Bayles

K&L Gates proceeded with in-app reporting of the threatening, racist and defamatory content on social media platforms while engaging with direct contacts in safety, legal and public policy roles, resulting in the:

  • removal of over 50 fake or imposter accounts from Instagram alone;
  • establishment of protocols with Facebook and Instagram to prevent recidivism;
  • removal of 106 YouTube videos on basis of copyright infringement and community guidelines; and
  • permanent suspension of nine Twitter accounts and removal of ten individual Tweet URLs.

The engagement of K&L Gates with the social media platforms was greatly assisted by the work of Sefiani and the resulting media attention to the issue.  Sefiani advised the family to cease social media engagement and secured the production of the wonderful half-hour documentary “About a Boy” on the ABC’s Australian Story to get the true story told about Quaden and further prevent recidivism.

K&L Gates also advised the family on the funds raised via GoFundMe, a significant portion of which was donated to six charities. K&L Gates advised on the different trust structures to receive the funds in a tax efficient manner, prepared the trust deed and arranged for it to be stamped, and coordinated the disbursement of the funds from the US to the family and the Australian based charities.

Eric Boone (K&L Gates) & Robyn Sefiani (Sefiani) at Mumbrella Awards

This story was submitted by K&L Gates.

Story 17: Representing Denise from Homelessness to a Home

2021: South Australia

Denise* was staying in emergency accommodation when she was referred to Homeless Legal. She had been living in a shared rental property but was forced to leave suddenly when threats were made against her by the other tenants. They told her they would only give her 28 days to collect her possessions – but this was an unmanageable timeframe for Denise who didn’t have the money to pay for a removalist and storage unit.

Our pro bono lawyers wrote to the other tenants, seeking more time and reminding them that they had obligations in relation to disposing of other people’s property.

Due to the tension between the parties, the lawyers remained involved and helped to organise a mutually convenient collection time. With Denise’s permission, the lawyers also collaborated with her support workers who found her a home to move into and supported her to arrange an affordable removalist.

The collection was completed without incident and Denise told us how pleased she was to be able to move on from this difficult time.

“I feel happy & content after just a few weeks in my own home & I have realised this is the result of no longer being homeless & the powerful experience of remembering my worth.

“I really appreciate everything you have done for me on this matter & the kindness & understanding you have shown me during this difficult time. I feel incredibly lucky as to how all this has panned out & all the help I have received. I can’t express enough just what a difference to the quality of my everyday life & living your assistance & guidance has made.”

*Name changed to protect privacy

This story was submitted by Homeless Legal.

Story 19: Medical Expert Assists Indigenous Man in Custody 

2020: New South Wales

Two years ago, Allen & Overy’s James Clark contacted ExpertsDirect Pro Bono about an Indigenous Australian man who was assaulted by corrections officers in the cells of a local court. Police struck the man multiple times in the face and torso which left him with a fractured nose that caused breathing and sleeping difficulties, and swelling around the cheeks, ears, and eyes, amongst other injuries.

A physical assessment of the client’s facial injuries would become essential to establishing the extent of harm and therefore the basis of the client’s personal injury claim. Any assessment however would require the opinion of a medical specialist and therefore exceed the firm’s and client’s combined budget of $2,000.

ExpertsDirect’s pro bono arm provided an experienced oral-maxillofacial surgeon. The very next day, they sourced an ENT specialist on the advice of our oral-maxillofacial surgeon that an ENT doctor would be more appropriately qualified to assess the full extent of the client’s injuries. The ENT expert provided the client with a consultation only days later.

The expert’s report found that the incident with police had led to permanent damage to the client’s nose and air passage.

The Allen & Overy team led by Jason Gray and Edward Einfeld secured a settlement for the client who was very happy with the result. The settlement was achieved notwithstanding strict laws that are intended to prevent persons in custody in the jurisdiction in question from being able to obtain compensation for such assaults. According to Mr Clark, the provision of low-cost expert reports was vital in overcoming procedural hurdles and generating a real risk to the defendant, which helped to secure the positive outcome for the client.

Although the above story focuses on a specific matter ExpertsDirect undertook, it also reflects the experiences of more than a few of our pro bono clients who require financial and legal support in the same circumstances—in personal injuries claims against state institutions, often correctional or detention centres.

ExpertsDirect was founded on the understanding that the provision of effective and reliable expert witness evidence can significantly affect the outcome of a case. After witnessing the powerful impact of our service in our commercial practice, ExpertsDirect now extends its service to pro bono and community lawyers representing clients experiencing significant disadvantage.

This story was submitted by ExpertsDirect.

Story 8: Helping Maggie to Avoid Eviction

2017: Victoria

Since 2014, Justice Connect has delivered the Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project in partnership with pro bono member law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills. The project keeps women and children safely housed through integrated legal representation and social work supports, breaking the links between homelessness, family violence, and financial insecurity.

The Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project exemplifies Justice Connect’s purpose to increase access to legal support and progress social justice, and is designed to apply the organisation’s theory of change. Through the delivery of high-impact holistic services that are co-designed with impacted communities, people can access free support to navigate their legal problems.

Since the launch of the Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project, Herbert Smith Freehills has kindly delivered over 28,000 hours of pro bono legal help. This generous collaboration has enabled Justice Connect to provide wrap-around legal and social work assistance to 977 women and children facing homelessness. 83 per cent of the women helped had experienced family violence.

One of these women is Maggie, a proud Torres Strait Islander woman and single mother. Maggie and her daughter fled family violence in Queensland, arriving in Victoria with just enough money for a taxi to a hostel. Despite moving into transitional housing, the family violence continued, forcing them back into homelessness three times.

When Maggie’s ex-husband failed to pay court-ordered child support, Maggie couldn’t pay her rent on time. She came to Justice Connect for help when her rental provider started eviction proceedings.

Through Justice Connect, pro bono lawyers represented Maggie at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, obtaining more time for her to find new housing. Justice Connect’s social workers then secured funding to pay off the rent arrears and cover moving costs. When Maggie faced eviction again, the pro bono lawyers represented her and avoided her eviction into homelessness.

Eventually, the social worker helped Maggie to secure a new community housing property. Maggie was thrilled to be offered a place where she and her daughter could feel at peace. “It’s like Justice Connect came in with big open wings. You feel like you’re down and then someone comes in and scoops you up to protect you,” reflected Maggie.

Shortly after getting a roof over her head, Maggie graduated from university and now works supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members who are navigating the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal. To hear about her experience with Justice Connect in her own words, watch Maggie’s Story here.

Justice Connect’s Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project has directly prevented evictions into homelessness for 522 women and children, which based on Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute findings equates to $15.4M in cost savings to government.

This story was submitted by Justice Connect.

Story 9: Queensland Law Students Fight for Abortion Law Reform

2014-2021: Queensland

Together For Choice protest, 2018

Through partnerships with the not-for-profit sector, the UQ Pro Bono Centre (PBC) inspires law students to graduate with a lifelong commitment to pro bono legal service. With 500 law students on our roster, the UQ PBC provides assistance through voluntary student placements, projects, and law reform activities. The impact of this work is immense. It can be lifechanging for the students; it bolsters the capacity of the community sector and delivers tangible results for clients and the wider community.

This impact was clear throughout the long and arduous fight for reform to abortion laws in Australia. When a young couple were charged in 2009 for importing drugs and allegedly procuring an abortion, the archaic laws that criminalised abortion were in the spotlight. Women across the country rallied in support of the young couple and advocated for law reform.

Through the UQ PBC, law students devoted many hours to this important campaign.

Between 2014 – 2021, UQ law students completed nine research and law reform papers for organisations advocating for abortion law reform. These included research reports for Children By Choice on reproductive health and domestic violence, abortion law reform, legal action for refusal of termination, reproductive coercion, Gillick competency and termination of pregnancy, and reproductive choice and human rights. Daile Kelleher, CEO of Children by Choice has noted ‘we have engaged with the UQ Pro Bono Centre students over many years to assist with important advocacy work and assistance with legislation that helps to advance the reproductive autonomy of Queensland women and pregnant people and increase access to compassionate abortion.’

Report for Safe Access Zones in Australia

Voluntary work for Marie Stopes Australia has included research and advocacy reports on Safe Access Zones and Nurse-led Services for Medical Termination. After the WA parliament passed safe access zone legislation in 2021, Bonnie Corbin, Head of Policy at Marie Stopes wrote to thank the students for their safe access zones paper noting ‘In the WA Parliamentary debate this week advisors were still referring to the [paper]. The evidence was powerful. There is nothing I love more than an advocacy document that is so useful it makes itself redundant! Gratitude from Marie Stopes Australia who can now provide access to healthcare free from harassment.’

Students voluntarily involved in these projects participated in an historic and celebrated law reform campaign that has benefited women across Australia. The UQ PBC wishes to acknowledge their hard work and dedication.

This story was submitted by the UQ Pro Bono Centre.

Story 5: Allison Baden-Clay – Responding to Domestic & Family Violence

2012 – 2022: Queensland

Allison Baden-Clay

Allison Baden-Clay accomplished many things in life. A university graduate who spoke six languages, she was warm, talented and intelligent. Her passion was ballet, and she lit up the stage when she danced. A high achiever, she was crowned Miss Brisbane in 1993.

She married Gerard Baden-Clay and together they had three daughters. Despite outward appearances, Gerard was not the charming husband he presented to the world. Instead, he was a controlling narcissist who began isolating Allison once she had dedicated her life to their family and lost her career. A man who tormented her about her appearance, told her she was worthless, was unfaithful to her and used their savings to prop up his failing business.

On 19 April 2012, Allison was murdered by her husband in what would become one of the most well-known domestic and family violence cases in Australia.

From 2012 until the end of the long path of litigation in March 2017, HopgoodGanim Lawyers provided significant pro bono assistance to Allison’s family to secure the future of Allison’s three girls. Our pro bono assistance included ensuring that Allison’s children (not Gerard) would benefit from her estate.

After the litigation, HopgoodGanim Lawyers have continued to work pro bono with Allison’s family. We worked with the family to set up and obtain DGR status for the Allison Baden-Clay Foundation. The Foundation aims to educate the community about family and domestic violence and empower them to aid in prevention.

Each July, the Foundation launches their Strive To Be Kind campaign which aims to raise awareness about family and domestic violence and encourage people to practise kindness in their daily lives. Allison’s family is passionate about helping others in similar situations to Allison and encourages everyone to educate themselves on the signs of domestic and family violence. Once we understand the signs, we can equip ourselves with the correct skills to intervene effectively.

The Foundation at a Strive To Be Kind Launch (2018)

Reducing domestic and family violence is one of HopgoodGanim Lawyers’ three pro bono priority areas. We have a long history of working with victim/survivors of domestic and family violence and are focused on prevention, empowerment, increased access to justice and perpetrator accountability.

This story was submitted by HopgoodGanim Lawyers.

Story 3: Representing Mary – Lawyer Steps Up Voluntarily in Court

2010: New South Wales

Cessnock Court House

Years ago, I was at Court running a defended criminal hearing for a client. The matter that I was involved in was the only matter remaining at Court apart from a person in custody, Mary (not her real name), who had been arrested that day and was yet to go before the Magistrate. As the duty solicitor had already departed from Court, I was asked if I would be able to assist Mary.

When I went and spoke with Mary at the police station, Mary’s manner of speech and responses to my questions made me think that perhaps she had an intellectual disability. I reviewed Mary’s criminal record and custody management record before asking Mary if she had an intellectual disability, to which Mary responded no.

I asked Mary some more questions and learnt that Mary received the Disability Support Pension (DSP) from Centrelink, that Mary had been in special classes at school and that she still lived at home with her mum as Mary was unable to live alone.

I was at a loss when speaking with Mary to think that she had had so many interactions with the criminal justice system and that no one had noticed that Mary may have been struggling with an intellectual disability.

I obtained further instructions from Mary and was instructed to seek an adjournment to allow for the making of an application for bail and for mental health care as an alternative to the criminal justice system (Section 32 application). Thankfully Mary was granted bail and the matter was adjourned.

I continued to represent Mary even though she could not afford to pay any legal fees and her application to Legal Aid was refused. I could simply not fathom letting her go back to Court without legal representation. I was able to have Mary assessed by a psychologist without cost and have a suitable report prepared to support a Section 32 application. I also made a number of referrals to local support services who could assist Mary on an ongoing basis. When the matter returned to Court the Section 32 application was successful.

Mary and her mum were incredibly grateful at the time and Mary will still ring me occasionally to let me know how she is going. Mary has not been back to Court since and continues to receive support from community organisations.

This story was submitted by Kim Richardson, Solicitor.

Story 10: Sexual Assault Communications Privilege Project 

2009: New South Wales

SACP promotional posters

The SACP Project was a collaborative effort between Clayton Utz, Blake Dawson (now Ashurst) and Freehills (now HSF), the Women’s Legal Service, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the NSW Bar Association.

In 2009, the protection of sexual assault communications privilege was an area where victims’ rights were not being appropriately protected. Since 2003, the NSW Criminal Procedure Act had paid lip service to protect victims of sexual assault against their counselling records being obtained under subpoena by defendants in sexual assault trials. In practice, however, the privilege was not used. The reason was that most victims had no capacity to appear before the court and argue for the privilege to apply, as Legal Aid was not available to assist victims at criminal trials, and the DPP did not act for victims.

The SACP Project provided a pathway for victims of sexual assault to be referred to free legal representation to enforce their SACP in sexual assault criminal prosecutions before the Downing Local and District Courts. Despite initial opposition, it was eventually welcomed by the judiciary. In one matter, the presiding judge said: “it is necessary to record, I think, the fact that until very recently nobody appears to have paid any regard to the legislation which provides detailed requirements in respect of protected confidences”.

The SACP issue was raised consistently before the Courts for 12 months and hard data was collected on the huge difference which legal representation made for victims’ rights. During this time, almost 100 victims of sexual assault were represented and SACP was recognised by the Courts in 91% of the matters conducted.

Due to this unique collaboration, the NSW Parliament ultimately undertook legislative reform of the privilege as recommended by the SACP Project’s pro bono firms. A permanent state-wide SACP Unit was also recommended and established within Legal Aid NSW.

In many ways, this was an exemplary pro bono project, with an identified legal access problem tackled collaboratively, reform achieved through legislation, and with the State taking ongoing responsibility for legal representation. The SACP Project was awarded the Pro Bono Partnership Award at the Law and Justice Foundation’s 2011 Justice Awards.

This story was submitted by Clayton Utz.

Story 20: Helping to Eradicate Modern Slavery

2020-2022: National and International

William Ashurst
Artist: @natasha_kavanagh_art

With more than 40 million people caught in forms of modern slavery, Ashurst recognised the role it could play, as a global law firm and member of the business community, in helping to eradicate all forms of modern slavery. The firm’s founding partner, William Ashurst, and his daughters worked to eliminate slavery, and Ashurst continues these efforts today, utilising its resources to take action against the present-day iteration of this old social justice issue.

Ashurst formulated its Modern Slavery Action Plan in commemoration of Ashurst’s 200th anniversary, in continuance of founder William Ashurst and his daughters’ anti-slavery work. Launched in October 2020, this Plan sets out specific objectives including:

  • Understand our role in addressing modern slavery
  • Collaborate and work in partnership with not-for-profits leading efforts in the anti-slavery movement to understand their work and achieve maximum impact
  • Understand where we can support survivors of slavery
  • Ensure our people engage with anti-slavery efforts

Pro bono support is one aspect of the above, and since the Plan’s launch, Ashurst has run two key pro bono projects in Australia:

Secondment Program

Four lawyers have already been seconded to modern slavery organisations, including Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA). Their assistance has included contributing to a collaborative project to provide qualitative and quantitative analysis of the effectiveness of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) and assisting front-line lawyers by working directly with victim/survivors of modern slavery.

Jennifer Burn, Founding Director of ASA noted “we are enormously grateful for the way that Ashurst has worked with us by bringing substantial research expertise to strengthen the scope and depth of the Anti-Slavery Australia research program.”

Law Reform Project

Ashurst lawyers have prepared research and gap analysis regarding coercive control laws in NSW and the Commonwealth; research papers on the kafala system (and other similar migrant labour monitoring systems); and scoping a project to map stock exchanges’ compliance obligations regarding human rights and modern slavery.

This story was submitted by Ashurst.

Story 16: National Disability Insurance Scheme Project

2021-2022: Western Australia

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has raised many access to justice issues and has been labelled by some as a bureaucratic nightmare that fails to meet the needs of people with a disability.  

Under Lavan’s NDIS pro bono project, lawyers assist clients with NDIS internal review applications and in appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.  Most of the cases we take on relate to significant cuts to funding under NDIS plans that were intended to provide necessary supports and services to the person with a disability. 

Our clients, along with the people who support them, tell us that they’re exhausted by the time they get to speak with a lawyer. They are often fed up with an inflexible system that does not understand their needs. Some of our clients, or their informal carers, have been struggling significantly when they have sought Lavan’s pro bono services – they tell us about the seemingly endless meetings, forms, reports and a lack of outcome despite their best efforts. 

The assistance we have been able to provide has been life-changing for some of our clients. In some cases, it has meant that couples who have been married for decades are able to remain living at home together. In other cases, it is securing a support needed for the bare necessities of life. Sometimes the impact of the work has been more intangible. For example, our clients have told us that they feel so relieved that someone is finally listening to them and taking what they have to say seriously.    

One client with a brain injury recently had their NDIS plan funding quadrupled as a result of our assistance. Their partner and informal carer was at breaking point and saw no option other than for our client to leave the family home and go into supported accommodation. However, the increased funding means that she can receive additional support and they can remain living in the family home together. The client can also access additional supports focused on improvement of his overall wellbeing and enjoyment of life and better access to the community.   

The NDIS pro bono project at Lavan gives lawyers an opportunity to provide our clients with critical but temporary legal support in what is often their lifelong battle for basic human rights. A successful outcome for our clients can mean that in in this moment their human rights are protected.

Lavan’s NDIS Project is supported by:

Amber Crosthwaite
Cinzia Donald
Iain Freeman
Garth Tinsley
Special Counsel

This story was submitted by Lavan.

Story 6: #RaiseTheAge

2021: Australian Capital Territory

Raise the Age Artwork

Wotton & Kearney (W+K) assisted Change the Record (CTR) with pro bono research aimed at addressing a major obstacle to raising the age of criminal responsibility in Australia, with Attorneys General (AGs) concerned about the prospect of children aged 10 to 14 being left without any consequences or interventions if they commit crimes.

Change the Record logo

Mapping preventative and diversionary services currently available in every jurisdiction, the research has demonstrated the alternatives that exist between incarceration and doing nothing at all, and how the cost of preventative services is a fraction of the cost of imprisoning a child (between $750,000 to $1m a year).

The ACT now has a roadmap with legislation to be introduced this year, with other jurisdictions actively exploring the possibility. It is hoped that once a large state signs on, others will follow. The AGs in each jurisdiction want to see the services in their own state or territory, so the ability for CTR to do this work with pro bono resources has been significant.

In addition to being used in state and territory advocacy, the research will be used by CTR in 3 specific pieces of funded work:

  1. A website resource for children’s advocates so they can quickly find out about each alternative service;
  2. An animation showing a map of Australia and where all the services are located;
  3. Advocacy and educational videos with stories of children who have been diverted from the criminal justice system and had their lives transformed through participation in some of the services.

The W+K team looks forward to seeing the CTR resources when they are finished and progress towards raising the age in every jurisdiction.

This story was submitted by Wotton & Kearney.

Story 7: Afghanistan – Rapid Legal Assistance for Those Fleeing the Taliban

2021: Victoria

On 15 August 2021, the Taliban took over Kabul and quickly advanced into other parts of Afghanistan. Watching the Afghan people flee their homes struck a chord with the Australian community and made many of us recognise that we had a part to play in the humanitarian effort. Gadens was determined to apply our resources and skills to support the men, women and children who were fleeing the Taliban.

Assisting asylum seekers and refugees is a key priority area for Gadens under our Pro Bono Policy, so we were proud to work in conjunction with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in their efforts to meet the unprecedented demand for legal advice and casework services from the Afghan community in Australia and overseas.

Within two weeks, Gadens assisted in setting up the infrastructure for a remote telephone advice service. This included conducting training sessions for lawyers across the sector who joined our lawyers staffing the telephone advice line five days a week, responding to email requests for legal assistance and taking initial instructions for onsite legal appointments. The Sustainability and Social Impact team at Gadens supervised legal volunteers and assisted in the drafting and reviewing of fact sheets, while our IT team provided ongoing technical support for the phone advice line and dozens of our lawyers from graduates to partners joined as volunteers.

Our involvement in this project allowed ASRC to respond to approximately 2,500 email requests for legal assistance, complete 185 intake forms and schedule legal appointments for approximately 300 clients onsite at the ASRC. Many of the scheduled appointments included large family groups, including up to eight applicants per appointment.

It was inspiring to be a part of a legal sector coming together, and to know that it resulted in people accessing advice when they needed it.

Kathy Merrick (Gadens Board Member and Partner) taking calls on the ASRC phone line in lockdown, 2021

Our participation in this project also built our internal capacity to broaden our assistance to the ASRC on an ongoing basis, leading to more projects and a more meaningful pro bono partnership.

This story was submitted by Gadens.

Story 15: Welfare and Legal Support for First Nations Peoples in Custody in WA

2019: Western Australia

The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia Limited (ALSWA) Custody Notification Service (CNS) commenced in October 2019. CNS provides a 24/7 phone service delivering welfare and legal support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are apprehended or arrested by police in WA.

King & Wood Mallesons provided countless hours of pro bono support for the implementation of the CNS in WA including assistance with the preparation of a comprehensive CNS manual, relevant policies and procedures, employment contracts, and reporting requirements. Immediate welfare and legal assistance at the crisis point of police custody, coupled with earlier and more effective access for vulnerable people to culturally secure legal and community services, has and will continue to transform lives.

As one example, a CNS Aboriginal support worker spoke to a young Aboriginal woman who had been arrested for alleged offending. The woman engaged well with the Aboriginal support worker and disclosed that she was pregnant but was trying to seek help with substance use and mental health. The CNS advocated for her while she was in police custody and also offered to provide assistance for any unpaid fines.

The woman agreed to a referral to ALSWA for legal representation as well as referrals to ALSWA’s Bail Support Service (BSS) and Work and Development Permit Service (WDPS). After receiving the referral, BSS assessed the woman in custody and developed a comprehensive bail support plan which included referrals and practical support to attend Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) counselling and mental health treatment, reminders and transport for court, and support to attend antenatal appointments.

The woman was released on home detention bail and she received comprehensive support from BSS in the community. She attended regular AOD and psychological counselling and all of her antenatal appointments. After a period, the home detention condition of her bail was removed because of her high level of compliance. The woman gave birth to a healthy baby who continues to reside with her and her other child. BSS also assisted the woman with housing issues and training opportunities. In addition, the WDPS helped the woman reduce her outstanding fine debt though time to pay arrangements, fine expiation orders and work and development permits.

The woman has complied with bail for well over 12 months. The CNS intervention was a catalyst for this woman to obtain the necessary supports in the community to change her life.

This story was submitted by Aboriginal Legal Service of WA Ltd.

Story 13: Reuniting Domestic Abuse Survivor with Family

2019-2022: New South Wales

In June 2019, Legal Aid NSW connected our firm Nomos with a representative of a women’s shelter, who made us aware of one of their clients and her desperate plight. At the time, the client (let’s call her ‘Sophie’) was in Australia as a permanent resident, while her 3 children remained in her homeland.

Sophie was a victim-survivor of domestic violence. She had been abused by her Australian citizen husband, and he had repeatedly promised that he would apply for visas for Sophie’s children to join them in Australia – but he never did. Sophie fled to a refuge rather than remain at the mercy of her husband. Whilst she was able to find security and support at the shelter, she remained desperate about the plight of her children, who remained half a world away, being cared for by elderly relatives in less than ideal circumstances.

That is where Nomos stepped in. Shortly after meeting Sophie and hearing her story, we agreed to take on the matter pro bono, and formulated a plan to help bring the children to Australia to be with their mother.

Nomos office space

After successfully navigating the various challenges faced in Sophie’s particular situation, we were able to secure permanent visas for the children in February 2020. Despite pandemic-related travel delays, the children finally arrived in Australia in March 2021. The day that Sophie and her children were finally reunited was one that we will all remember forever.

Earlier this year, we again assisted the family pro bono as they commenced the process of applying for Australian citizenship so that they can remain safely in Australia forever. In the year that the children have been in Australia, they have come so far. We were thrilled to hear that they are now studying hard so that they can support their mum, who never lost hope, and worked tirelessly to reunite her family.

Kathryn Rose Viegas, Principal Solicitor, Nomos

Since we first met Sophie, her life has changed immensely – from fleeing her now ex-husband to being reunited with her children in Australia and now taking the final step in their immigration journey, applying for citizenship. Clients like Sophie are the reason we work in this field, and it was a real privilege to help reunite this mother with her children. We are already looking forward to raising a glass once the family officially become Australian citizens!

This story was submitted by Nomos.

Story 14: Property Law Advice for Homeless First Nations Woman

2020-2022: New South Wales

For the last two years, Johnson Winter & Slattery (JWS) has been acting for a First Nations woman in relation to a complex and protracted property-related dispute, which left her homeless and on the verge of bankruptcy. This matter is an archetypal example of how complex legal proceedings of the type JWS are able to bring (but which are inaccessible for disadvantaged persons without pro bono support), can have a profound impact on the passage of an individual’s life.

In this matter, JWS’ client was verbally granted a peppercorn 99-year lease over a property and on that basis she invested in it and occupied it for 20 years. She installed a pre-fabricated home, paid water and council rates, and made a number of improvements, including installing a drainage and septic system and concrete paving. However, unknown to the client, the lease was never formally executed.

The client was served with a notice to vacate the land and became homeless. As a result of associated legal proceedings (prior to JWS acting), she became the subject of a bankruptcy application due to an unpaid judgement sum. 

The JWS team was able to establish in the Supreme Court of NSW that the client had a valid claim for restitution based on the value of the improvements she had made to the property, and that she was also entitled to equitable compensation based on a proprietary estoppel. Damages of $115,000 were awarded, which also resulted in the creditor’s petition in bankruptcy being dismissed.

This was complex Supreme Court litigation, traversing res judicata, Anshun and issue estoppels, as well as complex leasing, property valuation and contractual issues. The client was awarded costs across multiple court applications.

The team was led by Samantha Daly and Angus Hannam.

Samantha Daly
Angus Hannam
Senior Associate

This story was submitted by Johnson Winter & Slattery.