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Charter creates work for human rights lawyer

Charter creates work for human rights lawyer

DLA PHILLIPS FOX lawyer Ben Schokman is preparing to train lawyers on the implications of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. Schokman, the firm’s first full-time human…

DLA PHILLIPS FOX lawyer Ben Schokman is preparing to train lawyers on the implications of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

Schokman, the firm’s first full-time human rights lawyer who began work at DLA Phillips Fox in February, has been working on the training program in his capacity as a secondee to the Human Rights Legal Resource Centre.

“The idea of the project is to equip a panel of pro bono lawyers to provide education and training about the charter to the community legal sector and to identify how it can be used in casework, advocacy and service delivery.” Schokman said.

The charter came partly into operation on 1 January this year and will come into full effect on 1 January 2008. In the interim, businesses and government agencies will have a chance to get up-to-speed with the changes.

DLA Phillips Fox pro bono manager, Nicolas Patrick said that the firm decided to hire a human rights lawyer as a way to help ensure the opportunities that came with the charter were realised.

“There was obviously going to be a lot more opportunity to work in the area of human rights and we thought it was important that somebody was there doing it,” Patrick said.

The firm decided against simply appointing a lawyer from within the firm to the position of human rights lawyer, and advertised the role instead in order to get the best person for the job. Over 100 applications were received, and Schokman, who was previously a corporate lawyer at a major law firm, stood out due to his previous pro bono human rights work.

“At the same time we set this up we set up a full-time environmental lawyer position at the EDO [Environmental Defender’s Office] and we used a secondee from the firm for that because we have a fair amount of environmental law experience,” Patrick said.

“But with this human rights lawyer position, we spoke with the director at the Human Rights Law Resource Centre and decided we wanted somebody who wasn’t just a corporate, commercial lawyer, but someone who had actually had a genuine interest in the area of human rights and had demonstrated experience and interest in that area so we actually wanted the best person from the job, rather than just ‘this is the person from the firm who was are going to send out there’.”

Schokman acknowledges the role at the firm is one many lawyers would envy.

“It’s a great commitment from DLA Phillips Fox’s perspective because they are genuinely committed in terms of the pro bono program and it highlights that they are interested in the development of pro bono organisations generally, rather than just at DLA Philips Fox,” Schokman said.

Other projects Schokman is focusing on include looking at detention conditions (including detention of prisoners and involuntary psychiatric patients), the harmonisation of law, policy and practice in Australia with international human rights norms and standards, and promoting equality and economic and social rights.

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