ACCESS TO justice has become the popular catchcry of those bringing legal support to disadvantaged people. One small New South Wales law firm can now also make this call, having brought free legal advice to Sydney’s midwest suburbs.
A little over two years ago, Mills Oakley lawyer Luke Geary established Courtyard Legal at the Salvation Army’s drop-in centre in Auburn, a service providing free legal advice to those in need in the area. His work has now been nominated for the National Pro Bono Resource Centre’s 2007 Pro Bono Partnership Award.
The partnership focuses on the poor and marginalised in the Auburn community, and provides a free legal service for clients of the nearby methadone clinic.
Geary had been assisting people in the area on an informal basis at the request of some friends, but then decided to officially set up the service because of what he saw as “a real need to help people by providing representation and advice, primarily people who fall between the gap of qualifying for legal aid and being able to afford a lawyer who would not just appear professionally”.
In what Geary describes as “an unusual and unpredictable mix”, the work ranges from criminal matters, to family law and child protection matters, housing issues and small debt recovery matters.
A substantial portion of Geary’s work also involves immigration matters, mainly assisting with offshore refugee applications primarily for people in Africa. For this, he studied immigration law and Mills Oakley paid for him to obtain his qualifications in this area.
Geary sees clients at the centre for three hours every Monday evening, but he also makes a number of court appearances each week, which he said involves “going out to the local and district courts at Campbelltown, Liverpool, Parramatta, Blacktown and Bankstown, which takes up a lot of time”. Geary said that Mills Oakley is “fantastic”, giving him “complete freedom to do that sort of work as long as I meet my targets”. He has also been able to get the assistance of a few other lawyers from the firm when things have been tight.
Demand for the service is growing, particularly in the area of immigration, as news of the clinic has spread around Auburn, and it’s easy to see why. Geary explained that since the service began he has “had a little over 130 clients and only one unsuccessful result in court.”
Geary believes that the outcome of his one unsuccessful case and cases like it helped drive a change in the law regarding the ability of a person to appeal against the revocation of a suspended sentence, which occurred early this year.
Geary is clear that seeing justice realised is the main benefit he gets from running the service, “or rather, you see the injustice before these people approach you”, he said.
“[The clients have] been charged with crimes they didn’t commit, they’ve had children taken from them in circumstances that weren’t warranted, they’ve been kicked out of their housing or harassed by someone because of a disability or illness. It’s an opportunity to help people who aren’t otherwise getting any”.
Geary’s work at Courtyard Legal was nominated for the National Pro Bono Resource Centre’s 2007 Pro Bono Partnership Award.