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 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 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 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.