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Unsolicited

Every Issue

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.8

We welcome letters to the editor of no more than 400 words.
Email: letters@liv.asn.au. Fax: 9607 9451.
Mail: LIJ, Managing Editor Mick Paskos, GPO Box 263C, Melbourne 3001; or DX 350 Melbourne.
We reserve the right to edit letters and to republish them in their original or edited form on the Internet or in other media. Letters must include a phone number and address for authentication.

VWL aims to “keep gender on the agenda”

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.8

Thank you for the excellent coverage given by the LIJ of the awards night held by Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) and the Women Barristers Association (WBA) (“Keeping gender on the agenda”, July 2003 LIJ, pages 16-20). Thank you also for highlighting the continuing difficulties faced by women at the Bar. You have admirably supported Justice Warren’s war cry for change.

VWL was inspired and charged by Justice Warren’s speech at the awards night and we fully support her call for recognition of the current minimal briefing of women barristers. VWL also fully supports the efforts of the WBA to alleviate this situation and immediately undertakes to re-forward the Model Briefing Policy to all our members. It is important that all solicitors support women barristers by adopting recommendations put forward by the Bar Council and the WBA. To this end we should all be reviewing our own briefing practices to make sure that we are doing something to assist change.

The latest edition of Portia (VWL’s quarterly members’ magazine) contains a photograph taken at the request of Justice Kenny of the Federal Court. It is a photograph of assembled counsel appearing before her Honour on 13 March 2003. The photograph was taken because two female senior counsel were appearing before a female judge. This was considered unusual enough for the occasion to be recorded in a photograph. Let us hope that one day soon such an occasion will be so commonplace that it passes unnoticed.

Joanna Renkin
Convenor
Victorian Women Lawyers

For providing the letter of the month, Joanna Renkin has won a $50 book voucher from the Law Institute bookshop, redeemable for the next 12 months.

Improving opportunities for women solicitors

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.8

Congratulations on your cover story “Keeping gender on the agenda” (July 2003 LIJ, pages 16-20) and your continued support for these important issues.

The Women Barristers Association (WBA) and the Victorian Bar Council have, as your report noted, been working for five years to implement strategies designed to improve briefing opportunities for women barristers and encourage women to come to and stay at the Bar.

It is extremely disappointing therefore to note that the early analysis of the Bar’s recent sampling of court appearances indicates nothing has changed and women barristers are simply not appearing in trial work.

The WBA joins Justice Warren in her call for the senior Bar to include women as juniors. Apart from the obvious benefits of diversifying the skills of the team, it appears that judges welcome women appearing before them.

We also urge solicitors to adopt the following strategies to improve the record of briefing women:

  • familiarise all solicitors with the principles of the Model Briefing Policy and formally adopt the policy across all areas of practice. Adoption of the policy is now a condition of tendering for state government work;
  • regularly review any internal list of preferred counsel to ensure women are included and then review briefing practices to ensure those women are in fact receiving quality work;
  • invite senior barristers to recommend suitable women to appear as their juniors;
  • ask clerks to recommend suitable women;
  • use the women barristers directory appearing on the Victorian Bar’s website at http://www.vicbar.com.au; and
  • invite women barristers to present in-house seminars on topics of interest.

The WBA has arranged a number of in-house seminars for firms in the past and is happy to assist with recommendations of speakers and further information on the strategies firms might adopt in improving opportunities for women.

A full copy of the Victorian Bar Council Equality of Opportunity Model Briefing Policy can be found at http://www.vicbar.com.au/2_6_3.html.

Fiona Mcleod
Convenor
Women Barristers Association

Diversity needed

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.8

I refer to the article “Keeping gender on the agenda” in the July 2003 issue of the LIJ. Many issues raised in the article were addressed at the Young Lawyers’ Section (YLS) Annual Assembly earlier this year where diversity within the legal profession was the primary focus of discussion. More flexible and socially progressive workplaces were seen as the key to ensuring job satisfaction and longevity within the profession.

The steady migration of talented young lawyers from the private profession is disturbing and, accordingly, the YLS supports the Victorian Women Lawyers’ call for firms to “take up the challenge” to turn the rhetoric of flexible workplaces and policies into reality. The YLS firmly believes that differences, whether they are based on, for example, gender, age, sexual orientation, family responsibilities or cultural background, should not be a barrier to forging a successful career within the profession. Indeed, the profession should be encouraging and accommodating difference, facilitating the creation of a profession that truly represents the diverse communities we serve.

While attaining more flexible work practices in firms, including the provision of part-time articles, is high on the YLS agenda, so too is the development of a greater network of mentors within the profession to whom junior lawyers can turn for advice. This is especially import ant for women lawyers who, in seeking senior mentors and role models, are confronted with the stark reality that it is men who, overwhelmingly, occupy the more senior positions within the profession. Hopefully, as more women answer Justice Warren’s call to take up opportunities for advancement (which they can only do if provided with support and encouragement from the profession as a whole) there will be an increase in the number of female role models and mentors.

In this respect, VWL and the Women Barristers Association should be congratulated for initiating the inaugural Victorian Women Lawyer Achievement Awards. The three award recipients represent women who have not only achieved great things in their own careers, but also, importantly, women who have helped other women along the way. Without continued public recognition of the achievements of female role models and mentors such as County Court Judge Rachelle Lewitan, Tina Millar and Natalie Bannister, women lawyers at the early stage of their careers could be forgiven for feeling that it’s still a man’s world when it comes to the law.

Anna Stewart
President – YLS
Consumer Law Centre Victoria

Contrary to children’s best interests

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.9

The Family Law Amendment (Joint Residency) Bill 2002 proposes to introduce a rebuttable presumption of joint residency. This Bill is contrary to the best interests of children as it will curtail the Family Court’s present ability to tailor the most desirable and beneficial out comes for children. It is the antithesis of the best interest principle which is the foundation of the Family Law Act.

The Family Court presently makes decisions only in those cases where parents cannot reach their own agreements as to the care of their children. The Court recognises that conflicted parents, who cannot reach agreement on the fundamental issues relating to their children, are also unlikely to identify what is in their children’s best interests.

In order to promote the “best interests” principle, the Family Court ordinarily chooses one household in which that child is to live and one parent to have the primary responsibility for daily care. The net effect of this choice minimises areas of on going conflict between already conflicted parents and thus removes the child from the emotional, psychological and sometimes physically violent fallout of that conflict.

A presumption of joint residence runs contrary to the evidence of experts in childhood development that children thrive when there is continuity, stability and certainty in their lives and that children often benefit from having one “home”. The Court relies on such experts when making decisions and is open to the evidence of such experts even when a contrary view to the one “home” concept is put.

This Bill is the by product of those seeking to promote their own interests, rather than focusing on the needs of their children. It has more to do with the antiquated notion of parental rights rather than parental duties and responsibilities. As a society, we are responsible for the welfare of all children and anything that diminishes the current flexibility of the Court to regard one child’s unique circumstances diminishes us all.

Family lawyers predict that the presumption will lead to increased litigation rather than a blind acceptance that children, like chattels, are to be “shared”. At the vortex of litigation will be those who are least able to make sense of an already confused situation, those who are most vulnerable to the machinations and manipulation of the warring parents – the children. One day, those children will grow up and judge us all.

Caroline Counsel
Accredited Family Law Specialist
Counsel & Kelly Family Lawyers

Time for legislative change

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.9

The introduction of the Family Law Amendment (Joint Residency) Bill 2002 into the Senate coupled with the Prime Minister’s announcement of an inquiry into the rebuttable presumption of joint custody provides those of us practising within the jurisdictions with the opportunity to “have a good look at ourselves” and the approaches we adopt in serving the best interests of clients. Let us seize the opportunity to review and assess rather than oppose and then confront bleating claims of self-interest.

Those promoting the reforms and/or the inquiry ought to be accepted as genuinely motivated even if some promoters are highly subjective or belong to lobby groups. As lawyers, we can foresee the development of standard criteria for rebuttal purposes. These are likely to include the all too common circumstances of intractable conflict, substance and/or alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, relocation, domestic violence, the birth of half siblings etc. Hopefully this will caution legislators to consider that rebuttable presumptions in relation to the family (which is subject to frequent change of itself) may be fertile ground for further expensive and polarised litigation.

It is now time for legislative alteration from the adversarial to the investigative and professionally assisted conflict resolution approaches for children. Such a directive will enhance the determination of the best interests of children in all circumstances and in all relevant jurisdictions. For too long discharge of responsibility to clients by focusing on past conduct, intruding into the circumstances of relationship breakdown and cross-examination on human weaknesses have not fully served the children. It is interesting to note, allowing for the separation of powers, the Family Court’s shift towards such an approach in its proposed new rules and in the recent public statements of Chief Justice Nicholson relating to the inadequacies of the adversarial system.

The role of those who separately represent children has been described by the courts, inter alia, as “honest broker” and “akin to counsel assisting a royal commission”. It would not be a gigantic step to change our philosophical approach and treat all non-criminal children’s proceedings as such a commission with the child representative and his or her professional team, in conjunction with parents, solicitors and the court, focusing on resolution of the best interests of each child or children in the particular circumstances in which they find themselves without the pressures of concentrating on the negative. Legislative endorsement would be an important start but it must be followed by responsible resourcing. If this were to occur, the necessity to legislate in relation to presumptions and ability to rebut would not be necessary and specific legislation acknowledging that primary care of children must be determined regardless of gender would provide a valuable directive.

We as professionals must take stock of the role we may have played, albeit unintended, in adding to parental conflict and the unhappiness of children. Let us keep serving our clients as we must but at the same time maintaining a watchful eye on the needs of the next generation.

Tim Mulvany
TJ Mulvany & Co

Open admission

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.9

I read with interest in the July issue John Cain’s contribution on the subject of articles of clerkship (“Desperately seeking articles”, page 6).

I was reminded of a proposal which was developed and debated at great length some years ago, and which was designed to address this very issue. As Mr Cain correctly points out, many graduates who have no intention of practising law compete for articles. The reason for this is clear – graduates do not consider their training to be complete until they are admitted.

The solution seems obvious – admit everyone on completion of an accredited law course. This would, hopefully, mean that only those wishing to pursue a career in private legal practice would seek articles. A practising certificate would still be a pre requisite to practice and this would only be granted after completion of articles. (I would also suggest that a full practising certificate should only be granted after having an employee’s certificate for at least three years, with perhaps discretion to vary this in exceptional circumstances.)

Problem solved.

David J Denby
MM&R

Superficial proposal

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.9

A national paedophile register may gather laudatory tabloid headlines, but that does not make it a good idea. It is a superficial proposal which violates fundamental principle. Unlikely to achieve its claimed benefits, it deflects attention from providing real protection for children.

Real protection is what children need – from physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The suffering many children experience, exacerbated by official failure to accept responsibility, to listen to them and acknowledge their suffering, is a national disgrace.

The Age reports (3 July) that the Australasian Police Ministers Council wants “a national register of convicted sex offenders” and “child sex offenders would have to inform police of their whereabouts for up to 15 years”. Victoria, it appears, wants all sex offenders to be included.

This proposal amounts to imposing an additional penalty, not ordered by the court, after the serving of a sentence. It violates longstanding common law principles. Furthermore, Australia has promised the world, in ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that “no-one shall be punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted”: Article 14.7. The police ministers want to punish again, without trial, someone who has not only been convicted, but has served their sentence.

If they do impose national registration and reporting obligations on ex-prisoners, there must at least be independent judicial assessment of individual cases, with objective, statutory criteria. Coupled with a specialist service which could develop expertise in risk assessment and sensitive handling of the issues, an appeal and correction pro cess, and strict provisions against misuse of information, this might meet some objections of principle.

But no scheme could meet the most basic objection: it will not work.

New South Wales admits only one registrant in 350 has proved a child sex abuse recidivist – probably much lower than the rate among those most prone to this crime, male family members.

Apart from better support services for young families, one way to prevent child sexual abuse is to rend the curtain of shame which prevents children telling their mothers what is happening, and from being believed if they do. It is this sexual shame which lets those priests and others get away with it for so long, not the lack of a national register.

Jamie Gardiner
Vice-President
Liberty Victoria

Further casualties

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.10

In May’s “Unsolicited” (LIJ, page 8) Chris Maxwell QC said that, “If truth is the first casualty of war, then the second is the rule of law”. Tragically, with the passing of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 [No 2], there have been further casualties in the “War against terror”. Among them are:

  • the right to silence;
  • the presumption of innocence;
  • the right to not be detained unless suspected of commit-ting an offence;
  • the exemption of children from the regime; and
  • real access to a lawyer of choice.

Since the Bill was first introduced in the Parliament in March 2002, the Victorian Federation of Community Legal Centres (CLCs) has campaigned vigorously for the preservation of these rights and legal safeguards.

This campaign sought to echo the balance counselled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights who, in February 2002, emphasised the importance of ensuring that innocent people did not become victims of counter-terrorism strategies. The commissioner pro posed that in taking specific measures, state action should be guided by human rights principles contained in international law, and balance the enjoyment of free doms and legitimate concerns for national security.

Although the Federation of CLCs immediately joined with other professional associations and community groups in strongly and clearly articulating the value of those human rights and legal safe guards, it could not argue with certainty whether the government’s concerns for national security were legitimate (although we had our doubts). And so, in the pervasive climate of fear of terrorism, the government was able to legitimise almost anything in the name of combating terror.

Liberal Party Senator Santoro’s speech to the Senate on 17 June 2003 is illustrative:

“I have received – and I know that all other senators in this place will have received – communications from members of Amnesty International making very reason able points; we acknowledge that. They are points that one would readily concede were it not for the fact that terrorism is not a normal war.

“Terrorists are not normal combatants. The only rule in the war against terror is that there are no rules”.

Australia has pioneered a counter-terrorism strategy that offends fundamental rights and legal safeguards. It is now incumbent on those who gathered to oppose this legislation to pioneer the re-elevation of the rights and legal safeguards which have been abandoned and challenge the legitimacy of Australia’s purported national security concerns. Unless this occurs, we run the risk of a “no rules” philosophy further eroding the foundations of our legal system.

Peter Noble
Spokesperson for the Victorian Federation of CLCS and solicitor at the Fitzroy Legal Service

Blanket of fear

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.10

The Criminal Bar Association of Victoria strongly condemns the amended ASIO Bill currently before the Senate and has urged the Labor opposition to change its willingness to permit the Bill to pass the Senate.

Having heard the debate in the federal Parliament on the Bill, it appears to us that the Labor Party has capitulated on the Bill. The amended Bill still proposes that innocent people can be detained in custody on no stronger basis than a belief that such a person has information that might assist ASIO’s intelligence.

That is simply not a good enough basis to take away long standing and fundamental rights such as the privilege against self-incrimination and the right to silence. In 2002, we, and others, argued before the Senate Committee that there was an onus on the government to demonstrate why such draconian powers were necessary. We do not believe that has been done anywhere near satisfactorily. It is not enough to point to the events of 11 Sept ember 2001 in New York or October 2002 in Bali and say “there you are – we need these powers”. In our view important civil liberties are being eroded under a blanket of fear.

Although there have been several amendments which are an improvement, such as the proposed sunset clause, lawyer of choice and lifting the minimum age to which they apply, these provisions are still an affront to our civil liberties. As in the previous Bill, rights of silence and the privilege against self-incrimination vanish, not from the reach of people who are accused of crime, but from people who are innocent of any wrong doing.

We agree with the position taken by the Law Institute on the matter and, if it is not too late, we urge the Labor senators to think again and oppose the Bill.

Lex Lasry QC
Chairman
Criminal Bar Association

Bill fails to protect human rights

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.10

The passage of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terror ism) Bill 2002 [No 2] is a matter of great concern for Amnesty International because it seeks to alter the arrest and detention procedures in Australia and fails to protect fundamental human rights.

This Bill could result in violations of human rights – with innocent people, including children, being potential victims. People may be detained simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time because ASIO suspects that they heard or saw something.

Freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention is a basic right. Detention under this Bill may breach provisions under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Amnesty International is fundamentally opposed to the detention of a person unless the person is charged with recognisable criminal offences and tried fairly within a reasonable period.

There are also devils in the detail of the Bill. Access to legal representation is limited by the requirement that the detained person name a specific lawyer to whom ASIO may object. Questioning can commence in the absence of a lawyer and any communication between the detained person and their lawyer must be able to be monitored.

The Bill, including the strip search provisions, applies to children above the age of 16. This risks breaching the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Failure to answer questions can lead to five years imprisonment. The evidential burden of proof is reversed with the detained person having to prove that they do not know the answer or have the information.

This new regime appears to be a unique departure from long established criminal justice pro cesses. While countries around the world have both introduced and reinvigorated anti-“terrorism” legislation since 11 September, Amnesty International is not aware of a similar scheme in place in any other country.

While Amnesty International acknowledges that governments have a duty to protect the safety of people within their territory, any response must occur within a framework that respects fundamental human rights. Human rights standards constitute the bare minimum of standards necessary to protect the safety and integrity of individuals from abuse of power. They are not simply legal niceties.

Nicole Bieske
Convenor, National Legal Team
Amnesty International Australia

Article title misleading

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.11

We refer to your June 2003 LIJ and in particular to the article appearing on page 81 “Victims’ concerns heard”.

A more appropriate headline would have been “Accused’s rights trampled”.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) obviously assumes that all complainants are “victims” whereas it is known that many allegations of sexual misconduct are false or malicious or come about as a result of therapeutic intervention leading.

The real victims of the VLRC report are the innocent accused.

Garry Woodhams
Woodhams O’keeffe & Co

Homelessness and voting rights

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.11

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters tabled its Report of the Inquiry into the 2001 Federal Election in federal Parliament on 23 June 2003. In the report, the Committee makes more than 30 recommendations to increase voter participation, improve electoral management and maintain the integrity of the electoral roll.

The franchise of homeless people – as discussed in the sub missions of the PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic, the Big Issue and the Council to Home less Persons – is considered in detail in the report at pages 83-95. In particular, the Committee acknowledges that up to 80,000 homeless people who may have been eligible to vote in the 2001 federal election did not do so due to voter registration requirements.

The Committee makes several recommendations in relation to the enfranchisement of homeless people, including: that the itinerant elector provisions outlined in s96 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 be amended to clearly apply to homeless people; that the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) simplify its itinerant elector application form to assist homeless people; and that the AEC target home less people in a public awareness campaign, informing them about itinerant elector enrolment.

In response to these recommendations, the AEC has under taken to include homeless people as a target group in its public awareness campaign for the next federal election. The AEC has also foreshadowed that it will work with welfare agencies to ensure that enrolment forms and registration assistance are available on-site.

The federal government is required to respond to the report within three months.

In the Clinic’s view, it is imperative that the government accepts and implements the recommendations of the Committee. In particular, the Clinic considers that s96 of the Act should be amended in the following ways:

  • Homeless people should be eligible to register as itinerant electors in the electorate with which they have the “closest connection”. It is important that homeless people be able to enrol in the electorate in which they live, so as to directly choose those who represent them.
  • Homeless people should be able to reside in one “real place of living” for up to six months rather than only one month before they become ineligible as an itinerant elector.
  • The definition of “real place of living” should be clarified to exclude any housing that is inadequate or is not safe and secure. This would ensure that homeless people who live in non-conventional accommodation such as cars, squats, shelters or refuges for a period of longer than six months are not ineligible as itinerant electors.

The right to vote is a fundamental human right, the effective exercise of which is necessary to ensure that the voices of marginalised and disadvantaged groups are heard.

The Clinic implores the federal government and the AEC to work with homeless people and welfare agencies to ensure that homeless people are able to participate in the democratic process and to have their say.

Philip Lynch
Coordinator, Pilch Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic

Vive la difference

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.11

The erudite article “The right of transsexual people to marry in Australia” (LIJ July 2003, page 58) by Eithne Mills and James McConvill adds considerably to our knowledge of this hitherto perplexing topic. The decision of the extraordinary case known as Re Kevin and Jennifer has sent shockwaves around the world.

Despite the learned – and if I may be permitted to say with no intention of being patronising – courageous judgment of the judge of first instance, Justice Chisholm, I feel that the starting point for consideration of this landmark case should have been the wise words of that homespun philosopher Jimmy “Schnozzle” Durante who said, “Having studied the subject to and fro, pro and con and fore and aft, I have come to the conclusion that the world is divided into two classes – men and women. Ignorance of this fact can lead to great complications”.

The case of Kevin and Jennifer establishes that anyone is entitled to change his or her gender, just as nationality or religion is not immutable. However, a marriage to be valid under the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) must still be performed between a “man” and a “woman”. A change of gender must therefore involve a physical change. One born male who wishes to become female must have an operation often referred to as a nip and tuck. A born female may need a graft of appendages peculiarly inherent in the male. Otherwise a criminal prosecution could result from entry into a public toilet the door of which by an appropriate and discriminatory symbol prohibits entry.

This case does not in any way legalise a so-called marriage between two partners of the same sex. One cannot say with certainty that in the foreseeable future such a marriage may not become legal, but that would require a change to the legislation and not merely a judicial interpretation of existing statutes. With the prevalent trend to remove any terms descriptive of gender in legislation by describing people as “persons”, anything is possible although politicians are not renowned for valour when such action might alienate the electorate.

When I was in practice, “person” was a term of art in the criminal jurisdiction and victims were tutored, in describing what had happened to them, to say, “he put his person in my private”. I cannot imagine anyone taking pride in being called the equivalent of a phallic symbol. Although it would appear from reports of proceedings before the tribunal of the Australian Foot ball League that it is acceptable to describe the opponent by the vulgar name of a female genital so long as the word is not preceded by a reference to the pigment of skin.

Readers of PG Wodehouse will remember how Jeeves would announce to Bertie Wooster that a “person” was waiting to see him, when in the estimable judgment of the butler such a “person” was not worthy of the title of lady or gentleman.

Over the centuries poets have waxed lyrical over feminine beauty, eulogising everything from the crowning glory of raven tresses to the adornment of toe nails, and in the voyage south contributing eulogies for each discernible feature of the anatomy. It is hard to imagine any odes to a “person”.

In accepting the Latin sigh O tempora, O mores that morals and customs change with the passage of time, as Kevin and Jennifer exemplify, let us also remind ourselves of the plea, “Vive la difference”. Otherwise entrants at the next eisteddfod will have to announce, “I will now recite Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longperson”.

Dr Philip Opas QC
Retired

Homeless hurt by fine crackdown

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.12

In the second week of July, almost 50 sheriff’s officers began a campaign, Operation Phoenix, to execute warrants against people with outstanding fines. The warrants authorise the officers to seize a person’s money or property or, if the person is impoverished, to arrest the person.

The PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic, West Heidelberg Legal Service and Youthlaw are concerned about the impact of the crackdown on people who are marginalised or disadvantaged, including the homeless, young people and people with disabilities.

Many homeless people accrue significant fines. In some cases, this is attributable to the person’s housing status – a person is far more likely to incur a fine for drinking in public if they have no home in which to drink. In other cases, this is attributable to the causes underlying a person’s homelessness – a person who is mentally ill and spends much of their disability support pension on treatment may simply have no money to buy a tram ticket. Once a fine is issued, homeless people are more likely to default on payment because they do not receive the notice or courtesy letter or they cannot pay. Non-payment of a fine eventually results in a warrant being issued.

Despite assurances from the Sheriff’s Office that Operation Phoenix would account for people’s special circumstances, the campaign appears to be targeting the homeless. In the first three days of the campaign, the Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic received three visits from the Sheriff’s Office to track down homeless clients. In one case, the officer sought to execute warrants for 24 unpaid fines, 22 of which had been withdrawn by issuing agencies more than a month ago in recognition of the client’s special circumstances. In another case, the officer tried to execute two warrants in relation to fines that had already been paid off through unpaid community work.

The impact of executing warrants against people who are marginalised or disadvantaged can be devastating. Cracking down on unpaid fines is extremely stressful for people in financial hardship, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, people with mental illnesses, young people and the homeless. This is especially the case when the sheriff’s officer tries to execute invalid warrants for fines that have already been withdrawn or paid off.

The resources that are being spent tracking down and dealing with disadvantaged fine defaulters would be better directed to constructive responses.

Resources should be spent on providing adequate housing, amenities and civic spaces for people.

People with special circumstances should be referred to an appropriate service provider rather than fined.

Our prisons and police cells should not be used as roofs over the heads of the most disadvantaged in our community.

Philip Lynch
Coordinator, Pilch Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic

Gary Sullivan
Principal Solicitor, West Heidelberg Legal Service

Sarah Nicholson
Director, Youthlaw

Correction

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.12

In the “Highs and lows of Law Week” (July 2003 LIJ, page 25), it was incorrectly stated that two speakers covering all aspects of making a will were Robyn Sparks and Kathy Wilson from Abbott Stillman & Wilson. They were from Aitken Walker & Strachan. The error occurred in material supplied to the LIJ.

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