Partnering for Indigenous Justice
Justice is a complex business. Pro bono partnerships can give vulnerable people access to critical legal services they might not otherwise afford, but without examining the bigger picture, the line of people needing assistance is unlikely to diminish.
In partnering with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) to form the Indigenous Justice Program (IJP) in 2001, we have helped to improve access to justice for more Indigenous youth, while giving the IJP the stability to develop relationships with Indigenous organisations, identify systemic issues and gaps in access to justice, and develop projects to meet legal needs.
The IJP has also cultivated a new partnership – the Police Accountability Project – which the IJP runs through a referral arrangement with the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT.
We joined with the IJP in 2014 to provide pro bono legal advice and representation to clients with police complaints. PIAC trains our lawyers who take part in the project in police powers, the types of police actions that may be able to be challenged and cultural awareness. Individual matters are then referred to these lawyers, who are supervised by PIAC lawyers.
Through this partnership, the IJP's capacity to assist more clients has grown significantly. To date, 18 matters have been referred to our lawyers, while PIAC has assisted more than 160 Aboriginal clients and obtained more than $750,000 in compensation for victims of unlawful police conduct since police accountability work began.
'This project is a great example of a really effective pro bono relationship, and it springs directly out of the trust and respect we've built together,' said PIAC CEO Jonathon Hunyor.
'It also shows how we can identify a need in an area and then work together to develop a specialty in that area to service that need.
'Having the support of Allens to run these cases means that we have more capacity to do research work, so that we're better informed about trends and patterns. This casework informs our policies and our policy advocacy.'
The majority of the clients in the project are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and under 25. Many are from remote and regional communities such as Bourke, Dubbo, Newcastle and Walgett, as well as the Sydney suburbs of Blacktown and Mount Druitt.
IJP senior solicitor Anna Dawson said many of the clients were vulnerable and faced challenging circumstances, making the support of a dedicated group of trained lawyers even more valuable.
'Our clients might be experiencing homelessness or have unstable home lives, some have mental health or substance abuse issues so they can be a particularly difficult cohort to reach.
'To have the support of clever young lawyers involved in this work is fantastic. It's not just about the extra capacity they give us. It's also about the high quality of the legal advice and representation they provide to the clients.'