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Redressing inequity, one brief at a time

News

Cite as: October 2009 83(10) LIJ, p18

Victoria's legal community have pledged to give Indigenous barristers a "fair go".

A joint LIV/Victorian Bar policy aims to encourage lawyers and firms to brief Indigenous barristers.

The LIV and Victorian Bar Indigenous Equal Opportunity Briefing Policy was officially launched on 14 September after first being proposed by LIV president Danny Barlow in August 2008.

Mr Barlow said the policy did not seek to mandate particular conduct on the part of those involved in the briefing process, but "rather what it does is encourage people to consider when choosing a barrister any Indigenous barristers who may be suited on their merits to the brief".

"The policy is not about preferential treatment - rather, it is about a fair go," Mr Barlow said.

Mr Barlow said the policy was born of frustration at the lack of Indigenous representation in the law based on relative population numbers and a desire to ensure present Indigenous barristers were given every opportunity to become role models for future generations.

The policy states that, in selecting legal counsel, all reasonable efforts should be made to identify Indigenous barristers and solicitor advocates in the relevant practice areas and genuinely consider their engagement.

The main objectives of the briefing policy are to promote equal opportunity for Indigenous barristers, offer the choice for legal practitioners and their clients to brief Indigenous barristers at the Victorian Bar and increase awareness of the presence of Indigenous barristers practising at the Victorian Bar.

It encourages members of the legal profession to play a role in addressing under-representation of Indigenous Australians in the legal profession, promotes the adoption of Indigenous perspectives in the development of the Australian legal system and Australian law and encourages a bridging of cultures between Indigenous legal practitioners, the legal profession and the wider Indigenous community.

The policy was developed, endorsed and supported by the LIV Indigenous Issues and Reconciliation Committee and the Victorian Bar Indigenous Lawyers Committee.

Indigenous barrister Hans Bokelund, who chairs the LIV committee and is a member of the Bar Committee, said he hoped the briefing policy would in the short term raise awareness among the profession that there were Indigenous barristers, and in the long term create opportunities and a pathway for Indigenous students.

"Under the policy you are not guaranteed work, but, like the Victorian Bar's Equal Opportunity Briefing Policy, you are likely to get a foot in the door. Then it is on individual merit if you get recurrent briefs," he said.

"One of the underlying challenges for [Indigenous barristers] has been that we have not got the critical mass, but from little things big things grow.

"Hopefully, in time there will not be a need for such a policy."

Mr Bokelund believes the policy may encourage interstate Indigenous practitioners to move to Victoria and have the flow-on effect of Indigenous representation in the judiciary in Victoria, where there are currently no Indigenous justices, judges or magistrates.

Mr Bokelund signed the Victorian Bar roll in 2005, becoming only the third Indigenous Australian to do so.

Munya Andrews and Brendan Loizou have also subsequently signed the roll.

Victorian Bar Indigenous Lawyers Committee chair Colin Golvan SC said the policy was part of the profession's commitment to open doors for Indigenous Australians.

"While we have an exciting development in the numbers of Indigenous students studying law in Victorian universities, we need to look at the next stage and work together to enable law graduates to enter the profession in a satisfying and meaningful way," Mr Golvan said.

Mr Golvan said the Bar had also waived reader's course fees for all Indigenous readers, started the Indigenous Barristers' Fund to financially support Indigenous colleagues with the cost of starting-up and offer rent subsidisation once a barrister had moved out of their mentor's chambers.

In recent years, the LIV has proactively sought to ensure the sustainable reconciliation between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians, worked to increase the participation rate of Indigenous Australians in the law and partnered with Indigenous Australian communities and organisations to promote legal rights.

These measures include the $6280 annual LIV Indigenous Bursary, which finances practical legal training at the College of Law for a postgraduate Indigenous law student. Since 2005, the LIV has housed and offered administrative support to Tarwirri, the Indigenous Law Students and Lawyers Association of Victoria.

The LIJ has widely reported on an historical lack of Indigenous involvement in the Victorian legal profession in a series of award-winning articles.

The briefing policy is consistent with the LIV's 2006 Indigenous Australians policy statement, published in 2006, Indigenous Australians in the legal profession and justice system.

In February 2008, the Victorian legal profession gathered at the LIV in an emotionally-charged morning to commemorate the federal government's apology for past injustices to Aboriginals.

The LIV is currently working on a booklet to help increase the representation of Indigenous Australians in the profession and to foster increased social links between the profession and Indigenous communities.

A copy of the policy is inserted with this LIJ and can also be downloaded from either www.liv.asn.au/media/pdf/2009LIVVICBarIndigenousBriefingPolicy.pdf or www.vicbar.com.au.

Jason Gregory

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