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Pro bono: Being open to new ideas pays dividends

Every Issue

Cite as: April 2011 85(4) LIJ, p.80

A pro bono referral for an international issue illustrates the benefits of a flexible working relationship.

The emotive issue of human trafficking has served to highlight the importance and value of adopting a flexible approach to pro bono matters.

The non-profit group Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH) has been working collaboratively with Allens Arthur Robinson over the past year to obtain financial compensation for people trafficked into Australia and forced to work in exploitative conditions.

The crime of human trafficking has been recognised internationally for a number of years, yet compensation for victims has been difficult to obtain.

Trafficked persons face many challenges in re-establishing their lives after they are able to leave a trafficking situation, such as physical and psychological recovery, securing visas and housing, and skills retraining. Some live with an ongoing fear of retribution by the trafficker against them or their family.

Financial compensation can make overcoming some of these challenges easier, and also has symbolic value as an acknowledgement of the harm done to them.

The overwhelming number of reported trafficking cases in Australia concern women brought to major cities to work in the sexual services industry, particularly women from south-east Asia. The Australian government is currently exploring the possibility that people are also trafficked into Australia for work in the construction industry and for fruit picking, vegetable growing and domestic service.

It is also thought that many incidents of trafficking are unreported. Human traffickers are often members of small, sophisticated organised crime networks that are frequently based on family and business connections between Australians and overseas contacts.

ACRATH was referred to Allens through the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) for pro bono assistance in making applications to the Victorian Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal on behalf of four trafficked women.

ACRATH was keen to work in Victoria to further develop the compensation work done by the Anti-Slavery Project of Sydney’s University of Technology. ACRATH also works closely with other organisations operating in this field, such as Project Respect and the Australian Red Cross.

After Allens held discussions with ACRATH, Project Respect and the Australian Red Cross, the scope of the referral was expanded as it became apparent that the legal issues involved in obtaining compensation for trafficked persons were complex and unexplored.

It was decided to convene a round table discussion to explore the options available for compensating trafficked persons and to identify the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

The event was attended by a number of members of the Bar, a judge, representatives from various state and federal government departments, private law firms and community legal centres, and several people directly connected with this field of work.

In addition to its primary purpose of brainstorming and discussing the potential avenues for obtaining compensation, the discussions also allowed people from a variety of backgrounds to collaborate in assisting human trafficking victims to obtain compensation.

A summary of the discussion is now being used by ACRATH to lobby the federal government to explore and develop better systems and options for survivors of trafficking to obtain compensation.

Concurrently, Allens began assisting several trafficked women to make applications to the Victorian Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal. It is anticipated that once this work is completed, a set of guidelines for running such claims will be produced for use by lawyers in the community sector who take on similar matters.

ACRATH and Allens have since worked together on a number of other projects, allowing the team working on pro bono matters for ACRATH to develop a stronger understanding of the legal and social issues arising in this area.

This pro bono relationship has evolved significantly since the initial referral, and demonstrates the way in which firms can actively engage with the needs and aims of their pro bono clients.

IRENE TRETHOWAN is a partner, NICKY FRIEDMAN is head of pro bono and community programs, and DORA BANYASZ and BRENDAN WOOD are lawyers with Allens Arthur Robinson.

Looking to help?

To help lawyers and firms become involved in pro bono work – legal services and otherwise – the LIJ profiles a community group and its needs each month.

Name of group: Kajji Foundation

Contact person: James Woods

Email: info@kajji.com.au

Address: 585 Little Collins Street, Melbourne

Kajji Foundation

The Kajji Foundation is a charitable trust that provides scholarships for young Aboriginies to Melbourne private schools and arranges home stays while they are studying.

The foundation strives to provide disadvantaged Aboriginal youth with a supportive environment in which study can help them with the resources needed to succeed and foster high self-esteem.

Current needs of group

The foundation is seeking the assistance of a tax or administrative lawyer. Apply at www.goodcompany.com.au.

goodcompany

See goodcompany at www.goodcompany.com.au for more information on this and other skilled volunteering opportunities. For more information about volunteering in general, see also:

  • www.volunteeringaustralia.org
  • www.ourcommunity.com.au

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