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John Gibson Award winner inspired by refugee grandfather

John Gibson Award winner inspired by refugee grandfather

By Karin Derkley

Asylum Human Rights 


This year's recipient of the John Gibson Award for human rights and refugee advocacy says he was inspired by his refugee grandfather to dedicate his time and expertise to advocating for the rights of asylum seekers.

The Award, named in honour of human rights advocate, scholar and barrister John Gibson, was given by Judge Julie Condon at the International Commission of Jurists’ (ICJ) Community Opening of the Legal Year at the County Court this week. Mr Gibson was a long time member of the ICJ until he died in 2012.

Award winner Matthew Albert has worked almost full time over the past two years providing pro bono legal assistance to asylum seekers, including numerous actions to facilitate medical evacuations from Nauru, and appearing on their behalf in the High Court of Australia.

A barrister practising in commercial, industrial and public law, Mr Albert said he was moved to work on behalf of asylum seekers after he visited Nauru in May 2016. "I reacted as I’m sure anyone else would, and that was to try do whatever I could to make life a little easier for those people."

Mr Albert said he was originally inspired to work in refugee law by his grandfather who escaped from Germany in 1939 as a young Jewish man. “He managed to escape with his immediate family, although some of his extended family were caught up in the Holocaust in the worst way. He has spent his life giving back to Australia.”

Providing pro bono advice to asylum seekers now takes up the bulk of Mr Albert’s practice. He also lectures in public law and refugee law in the Juris Doctor course at the University of Melbourne's Law School. He completed his masters in international refugee law at the University of Oxford in 2009.

Mr Albert praised Australia’s legal community for its contribution to advocating for asylum seekers. “It’s been an extraordinary whole-of-profession effort and one which we should celebrate as a legal community.”

“Solicitors from tiny firms to some of our biggest practices have been magnificent in their effort to help some of our most vulnerable people."

Many cases have required an extraordinarily fast turnaround from lawyers, especially in medical evacuation applications where an individual is at imminent risk of death, he pointed out. "Our legal community has on tens of occasions stood up to the immense challenge of pulling cases together and presenting them in the Federal Court within 24 hours."

Mr Albert also commended Australia's court system for rising to the occasion at extremely short notice. The Federal Court has held sittings late into the night on weekends to hear urgent applications for medical evacuations. "We are so privileged to be living in a country where access to justice is as meaningful as it was for my client who was a 12 year old boy."

Judge Condon said Mr Albert was “a most deserving winner of this award”.

“He has inspired many other lawyers with his unwavering commitment to address the unmet legal need of desperately vulnerable people who are ineligible for legal aid. John would have been proud to work with Matthew,” she said.

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