Welcome to the June 2017 issue of AUSTRALIAN PRO BONO NEWS, the Centre’s monthly newsletter providing stories and articles of interest to the Australian pro bono community.
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“The correction of injustice is one thing; the elimination of poverty is another.” A new book reflects on 40 years since the landmark Poverty Commission’s Law and Poverty in Australia Report
Recently published is Law and Poverty in Australia, 40 years after the Poverty Commission, edited by Andrea Durbach, Brendan Edgeworth and Vicki Sentas and published by Federation Press.
This is a great resource for all in the legal assistance sector because of the important historical and current perspective it provides about the role of law in combatting poverty.
There is much in this book that provides important food for thought about injustice, disadvantage and poverty, and how legal action and assistance can make a difference, particularly as pro bono resources are necessarily limited.
When Ronald Sackville published the landmark Poverty Commission’s Law and Poverty in Australia Report in 1975, the diagnosis was that the legal system was biased against poor and disadvantaged people at several levels, not just through substantive law. In fact, the most significant bias was the failure to provide legal advice and representation to many that required assistance.
Legal Aid was in its early stages of development and the report argued that a broader view of legal aid should be accepted, including:
The use of such techniques as test cases brought to develop principles in areas not previously judicially explored, or … to stimulate changes in legislation or administrative practices.
It inspired big picture thinking and public interest litigation but as Sackville now reflects in this book:
Viewed in retrospect, the Law and Poverty Report overstated the capacity of legal principles and the legal system to combat poverty … The correction of injustice is one thing; the elimination of poverty is another.
And so it is that the alleviation of injustice remains the main role that lawyers can play, not just through providing access to justice for individuals and organisations that wouldn’t otherwise obtain access but by supporting public interest litigation, contributing to law reform, and supporting organisations operating for the public good.
The book reminds us that whilst the legal system plays a role in compounding poverty and its effects, it can also play an important role in addressing socio-economic disparity.
The chapters that readers may find most informative may be related to the particular areas of disadvantage or focus in a firm’s pro bono program – for example, LGBTI People, Indigenous Australia – but many chapters speak broadly to issues around legal assistance and poverty:
Chapter 1: ‘Law and Poverty in Australia Today: A reassessment’, by Andrea Durbach, Brendan Edgeworth and Vicki Sentas
Chapter 2: ‘The Law and Poverty Report 40 Years On’, by Ronald Sackville
Chapter 6: ‘Indigenous Justice and Social Justice, 40 Years On’, by Larissa Behrendt
Chapter 10: ‘Consumer Debt and Low-Income Australians – 40 years of Wins, Losses and Challenges’, by Carolyn Bond
Chapter 15: ‘Between the Idea and the Reality’: Securing Access to Justice in an Environment of Declining Points of Entry’, by Andrea Durbach.
Chapter 17: ‘The Poverty of Criminal Law: Hyper-criminalisation and the Limits of Access to Justice’, by Vicki Sentas.
To view the full set of contents of Law and Poverty in Australia (and to order online), see here.