Justice Connect will bring together more than 10,000 lawyers and barristers that are prepared to offer free legal advice to not-for-profit organisations and individuals.
The guest list for the event in Melbourne Town Hall last night included a who’s who of the legal world, with judges, human rights champions and senior figures from leading firms in attendance.
A special video shown at the launch featured contributions from Human Rights Commission President Professor Gillian Triggs; Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC; former High Court judge Michael Kirby; Julian Burnside QC, director of the UNSW Australian Human Rights Centre Professor Andrea Durbach and Professor Denis Nelthorpe.
The CEO of Justice Connect, Fiona McLeay (pictured), commented: “Now more than ever we need Justice Connect to act as the lightning rod for those in the profession committed to pro bono – from the largest firms through to the smallest practices and individual barristers. We play a critical role in marshalling the resources of the legal profession to serve the homeless, the elderly, the socially and economically disadvantaged and the charitable and not-for-profit community organisations that support them.
“We can find the Goliaths who will work with the Davids out there so the odds are evened up and they can be heard in our legal system.”
High-profile cases that PILCH NSW and Victoria have worked on include: the Tampa asylum seekers case; the Stolen Wages case; exploitation of international workers on 457 visas; numerous challenges to asylum seeker and refugee policies, and discrimination cases dating back to 1994 when a sole parents group was refused use of a hall by a local council on the basis they were “immoral”, and the 14-year-old girl who fought the AFL for the right to play footy in 2008.
“We honour our history,” said McLeay. “It is a proud roll call of just causes, of bringing together the resources of the legal profession to serve people experiencing disadvantage and the community organisations that support them.
“If not for PILCH in NSW and Victoria connecting these people and organisations with legal resources, they would not have had a voice. As Justice Connect, we are looking forward to seeing the spirit of pro bono thrive, where we can better connect resources and expertise across two states.”
The 10,000 lawyers and barristers Justice Connect is bringing together come from around 50 law firms as well as individual practices.
Justice Connect, which came into being on 1 July, is Australia’s biggest agency connecting legal professionals that want to offer free legal service to not-for-profit organisations, individuals and cases that would otherwise go without.
Alexandra Rose, the head of legal at The Benevolent Society and this year’s winner of the In-house Award at the Lawyers Weekly Law Awards, is one of the directors of the new organisation.
Pro bono work, particularly in Victoria, has been in the spotlight lately, after legal aid funding cuts in the state; barristers there have also recently set up a pilot scheme to provide pro bono assistance, focusing on the civil division of the Court of Appeal.