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Lawyers give public interest law a leg up

Lawyers give public interest law a leg up

NEARLY 1000 members of the legal profession from across Australia put on their walking shoes last week to raise money for the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) in their state.The…

NEARLY 1000 members of the legal profession from across Australia put on their walking shoes last week to raise money for the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) in their state.

The inaugural “Walk for Justice” raised more than $30,000, which will be put towards PILCH initiatives to help disadvantaged people gain access to justice. Members across the legal profession took part in five-kilometre walks in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, with similar events also taking place in London and other locations in the UK.

Participants included private practice solicitors, barristers, judges, politicians, law students, representatives of law societies, bar associations and community legal centres and pro bono legal services and Legal Aid.

In Brisbane, around 300 people took part in a walk led by Queensland Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Jersey who walked alongside Queensland Attorney General Kerry Shine, raising around $10,000. Walkers gathered at the law courts complex and took off along the Brisbane River, finishing at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens.

According to Cristy Dieckmann, services co-ordinator at PILCH in Queensland, the money will go towards the organisation’s disbursement fund which benefits people receiving pro bono legal assistance either through the organisation’s referral scheme or directly through one of its legal clinics.

“If they need to pay an outlay, such a charge for a ‘freedom of information’ request or a court filing fee and they don’t have the funds to do it themselves, then they can access money through this disbursement fund,” she said.

The event in Sydney attracted about 250 walkers including New South Wales Attorney General John Hatzistergos and the Chief Judge at Common Law of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Justice Peter McClellan. The event began at the War Memorial in Hyde Park, continued through the Botanic Gardens and around Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, and finished at the Archibald Fountain.

According to Amy Kilpatrick, the director of PILCH in New South Wales, the walk raised at least $12,000 and she estimates that once all the funds are collected, the final figure could be high as $17,000.

“It was greatly successful. We’ve succeeded our expectations, given our lead time of only six weeks to get it all organised,” she said.

In addition to its pro bono referral service and training programs, PILCH in New South Wales is currently undertaking a number of issue-specific projects, including an aboriginal stolen wages project, a children in detention advocacy project and a project to assist people who have been victims of predatory lending practices. Kilpatrick said that the organisation is considering putting the funds towards research on credit and debt problems.

In Melbourne, the walk attracted about 150 participants, raising around $4000. Victorian Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren and president of the Court of Appeal Chris Maxwell were patrons of the event, which began at Melbourne’s Parliament House and finished at the Flagstaff Gardens.

Michael McKiterick, a solicitor at the Victorian Bar Legal Assistance Scheme, said the money will be used throughout all of PILCH in Victoria’s schemes. These include a homeless persons’ legal clinic, a new seniors’ rights advocacy service and PILCH Connect, which is a specialist legal service for community organisations, he said.

The South Australian legal profession was also strongly represented at the walk held in Adelaide, with around 90 people participating. The walk was lead by South Australian Supreme Court Chief Justice John Doyle, and funds raised will go towards establishing a public interest law clearing house for the state.

Meanwhile in the UK, around 3,5000 members of the legal professional raised a record 310,000 pounds ($635,000) in the fourth annual “Legal Support Trust Walk”.

See Busy Lawyer on page 36 for more pictures from the event.

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