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.

Communications volunteer

New South Wales and Queensland Flood Response