ALA forms pro bono committee

19th Nov 2012

A new pro bono collaborative committee, to help everyday Australians better access justice, is being formed between the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) and the National Pro Bono Resource Centre based at the University of NSW Law Faculty.

Australian Lawyers Alliance National President, Tony Kerin, said the state of legal aid in Australia was becoming so dire with many now finding it hard to access the courts in a timely way.

“About half a million Australians miss out each year on legal help. The ramifications of this on serving justice in Australia are obvious. If you cannot find the means to adequately represent yourself in court, there is real danger of injustice being served,” Mr Kerin said.

“By offering up members of our organisation, in conjunction with the National Pro Bono Resource Centre, a strong collaborative can be forged to increase, in some small way, resources to help stem the tide of people that continue to fall through the cracks.

"And while Legal Aid Commissions and Community Legal Centres are the main bodies set up to assist Australians who qualify before the law, they continue to be overstretched. All lawyers have a role to play in assisting access to justice outside their own practices and ALA will be encouraging its members, with the committee’s support to do more in this area,” he said.

Mr Kerin said early pro bono intervention also unclogged courts that, in many jurisdictions, were facing an ever-increasing number of people queuing to have their cases heard and even choosing to represent themselves despite having no experience with the legal system.

The Pro Bono Committee initiative was first mooted at the Australian Lawyers Alliance National Conference in Adelaide at the end of last month, with many social justice lawyer attendants from large law firms including Maurice Blackburn and Shine, pledging involvement and lawyers from the United Kingdom offering their advice and experience.

A stirring keynote conference address by this year’s joint National Civil Justice Award recipient, David Manne, (also Refugee and Immigration Law Centre Executive Director) further stimulated the initiative.

Mr Manne stressed the importance of the doctrine of legality and respect for the rule of law in immigration matters – praising the pro bono legal support given to him to fight key immigration injustices in the High Court against federal government legislation threatening human rights such as The Malaysian Solution.

The pro bono ethos was also discussed by National Pro Bono Resource Centre Director, John Corker, Maurice Blackburn Social Justice Practice head, Elizabeth O’Shea, and Shine National Social Justice practice head, George Newhouse.

Along with these lawyers, South Australian barrister, Claire O’Connor, who helped win Australia’s first stolen generation payment and represented the wrongfully-detained Cornelia Rau, has also pledged involvement as has Maurice Blackburn CEO, Greg Tucker, who told the conference his organisation had long been involved in pro-bono work and would assist the new group by sharing educational experience.

Mr Kerin said exchanging thoughts with like-minded professionals, through such opportunities, was an important aspect of the ALA’s mission.

Mr Corker said the committee intended to conduct continuing legal education pro bono sessions for ALA members with a major focus of these sessions being on issues particular to plaintiff law firms as they already took on large amounts of pro bono legal work and many ALA members were plaintiff lawyers.

He called for greater development of structured pro bono legal practices within plaintiff law firms and suggested that the two essential characteristics of such a practice were clear decisions that a matter was being done pro bono from the outset and that hours spent were accurately attributed to these specific matters.

He praised Maurice Blackburn and Shine Lawyers for their leadership and offer to share valued pro bono experiences with the new committee which will host pro bono legal education seminars for ALA members and be a resource to help other law firms develop their pro bono practices.

Tags: Access to justice Legal Aid and CLCs Civil Justice Award