Chris Povey

CEO

Tell us about yourself and how you came to be in your current role

I started off in commercial litigation, and over the last 20 years or so have worked in a range of social justice organisations. An important moment in my career was leading Homeless Law at Justice Connect. I remember seeing a young person, Jason* at the Geelong Magistrates’ Court (in regional Victoria) and helping with his eviction case. In addition to facing eviction into homelessness, Jason was dealing with criminal charges relating to drug issues and was trying to manage his mental health. In talking to him, it became apparent that he had been failed by multiple systems: school, health, justice… And it led me to ask questions about how we can intervene earlier, and help more people. The law is a very blunt instrument, which needs to work in tandem with other institutions and systems to generate just outcomes in the community. This role was a turning point for me and led me to take on leadership roles at Victoria Legal Aid in mental health and disability, and at the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission in research and policy, before starting in my current role.

Please give us a snapshot of the activities of Justice Connect

At Justice Connect we have a deep focus on increasing access to legal support to progress social justice. Why does this matter? Because we know legal need has a deep impact on people and organisations. The NSW Law and Justice Foundation’s formative research in this area demonstrates legal need can cause disadvantage, and disadvantage can cause legal need. We also know legal issues can impact your health, housing, family relationships, and financial stability. What’s more, this need is increasing. Climate crises, the cost-of-living crisis, the pandemic, and population growth are outstripping funded legal supports.

We work with people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and/or elder abuse, not-for-profit organisations, people with financial legal needs and more. Across this work we’re looking at our data, impact, and how we can reach more people through online channels and digital strategies. Pro bono relationships exist at the heart of what we do, bound by a shared focus on delivering help and impact. We collaborate with pro bono partners with a broad range of client groups and use different methods of delivering help – including, for example, delivering high intensity legal services for people experiencing homelessness, training Local Aboriginal Land Councils in NSW, and designing and implementing digital platforms to deliver assistance to more people. Learn more about our members here.

What are some examples of the impact of the pro bono work of your members?

I recently picked up a past annual report and noticed Cassandra’s* story. After 20 years of incredibly physically demanding work as a chef, she discovered she had been underpaid by $200,000. It’s hard to imagine the impact of this underpayment; the financial strain, and the sense of injustice and distress. Cassandra found us through our online legal clinic, and we connected her with a pro bono lawyer who helped take the matter to court, where she was awarded $160,000. She described this outcome as a “blessing.” I’ve sometimes reflected on this wording, given she simply received what she was entitled to.

It’s hard to pick just one story of our impact. A highlight has been federal and state governments formally committing to harmonise our fundraising laws (#FixFundraising). Amidst the housing crisis, I’m proud of our work with our pro bono partners to keep people housed. To amplify this impact across the many areas in which we work, we’ve develop digital tools like our Pro Bono Portal which is being used around the world to increase access to pro bono, and Dear Landlord, which has helped over 100,000 people since 2020. I’m proud that we are working with community organisations to keep their head above water amongst more and more regulation, freeing their capacity to deliver more community services. And we’re doing this while funding for our not-for-profit services has dropped significantly.

* Names changed to protect our clients’ identities