A FREE legal clinic for the homeless in Sydney’s eastern suburbs was officially opened last week by the NSW Attorney-General.
Corrs Chambers Westgarth has taken the clinic and its clients under its wing, dedicating a team of lawyers to work in the Bondi clinic every Tuesday.
Situated at the Norman Andrews House, the clinic was developed by the Homeless Persons’ Legal Service (HPLS), a joint initiative of the Public interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) and is the ninth clinic that HPLS has opened since it started in 2004. It has been operating for approximately three months now, assisted by lawyers from Corrs.
HPLS coordinator, Elisabeth Baraka, said she had already received some very positive feedback from clients of the clinic.
She quoted one homeless client who came out of a meeting with one Corrs lawyer and turned to another, saying: “I’ve seen some lawyers in my time, but these ones are good.”
Baraka said that while pro bono work is often viewed sceptically, she was encouraged by Corrs’ willingness to come out to a less convenient location in Bondi, outside their local central Sydney city. A main objective of the clinic is to provide legal services in a location easily accessible to the clients, she said.
The Corrs team, lead by solicitors Melissa Brunning and Elaine Johnson, provide legal advice to homeless people and people at risk of homelessness on a range of issues including victims compensation, housing, fines, discrimination and problems relating to court processes.
According to Brunning, lawyers from Corrs have been enthusiastic about the clinic and there are currently about 30 lawyers involved “ranging from partners to graduates”.
Brunning says that the experience has been very rewarding, one of the highlights being the opportunity to do work which is very different to what lawyers in a commercial law firm are used to. “It’s challenging work which can often lead to immediate results for the clients who are very grateful.”
NSW Attorney-General Johan Hatzistergos spoke to a room of lawyers, clients and the clinic’s employees of the importance of providing cheap and effective access to justice to homeless people.
Hatzistergos said that the justice system has the potential to “engulf” the homeless, “complicating their lives and leading them down the road where they may reoffend”. He congratulated those involved with the clinic for their efforts in “reaching out to people that might otherwise be lost”.