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Free wills clinics offered to remote communities

Remote communities in Western Australia have been afforded access to free wills clinics as part of a broader project to increase access to justice.

user iconLauren Croft 16 November 2021 Big Law
Free wills clinics offered to remote communities
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A total of 150 people from the West Kimberley communities of Beagle Bay and Djarindjin have registered with Broome CIRCLE, a locally based community organisation, for free wills clinics held this month.  

The free clinics are part of a collaborative access to justice project developed by Law Access and Aboriginal Family Legal Services and were delivered by a team of five lawyers, supported by Broome CIRCLE and Aboriginal Interpreting WA.

AFLS CEO Corina Martin told Lawyers Weekly that the clinics were part of a response to meet a growing need in Australia’s remote communities, particularly in Western Australia.

 
 

“Too many Aboriginal people are dying without wills in Western Australia, where the laws of intestacy are particularly unkind. When an Aboriginal person dies intestate, the common law system fails to recognise Aboriginal kinship structures, the importance of burial and disposal of a person’s remains in Aboriginal culture and other cultural wishes central to an Aboriginal person’s right to self-determination,” she said.

“Aboriginal Family Legal Service first identified the demand for a wills service for Aboriginal people in regional and remote Western Australia in early 2012, at a meeting with pro bono lawyers who were considering running a wills project out of the Perth Metropolitan area.

“I was at that meeting and raised the need for assistance in the wills and estate jurisdiction in regional and remote communities across Western Australia, particularly in the remote North West where there was, and continues to be, no legal facility available to meet that need.”

Three private lawyers took part in the clinic on a pro bono basis: partners from Perth-based law firm Jackson Mcdonald, Sally Bruce and Jim O’Donnell, as well as Janene Bon, wills and estate planning counsel from HHG Legal. They were joined by Gibbard, principal lawyer with Aboriginal Family Legal Services, and Arna Plaisted, lawyer with Legal Aid Western Australia.

Ms Martin added that the clinic would have a lasting positive impact on the community.

“Aboriginal Family Legal Services conducted a regional consultation process on wills in the West Kimberley in late 2020, which found that Aboriginal people in the region were unaware that anyone could make a will, irrespective of the value of their estate.

“When they realised that a will is intended to legally honour what is important to them, they were increasingly eager to include customary laws and cultural wishes in their will, safeguarding the passage of information to the next generation. Nevertheless, the feedback from the consultation indicated that the intent of Aboriginal people to pass knowledge on and to provide financially for their family after their death was often frustrated by restricted access to lawyers, whose assistance is essential to the preparation of a will,” she said.

“This pro bono clinic is the first of many necessary steps towards empowering Aboriginal people to be self-determining with their possessions, ensuring that their families are looked after in culturally appropriate ways, and safeguarding the passage of cultural knowledge and information. The benefits of the clinic will be felt directly by the participants and their families.”