The difference we can all make
Making a difference does not always mean undertaking grand gestures. Often, people make a difference to others through simple deeds that provide relief and hope. In Australia, there are many people in need of help – those disadvantaged because of poverty, social isolation, low literacy levels or discrimination. These factors often result in people being unable to exercise their fundamental human rights, including access to justice.
The Bar abides by the deeply held principle of equal access to justice for all, and this is demonstrated by our ongoing, formal commitment to supporting the pro bono work of our members. This commitment has helped thousands of Victorians fight for their rights, and it is encapsulated in this video depicting a moving and real account of a mother and daughter, Betty and Maria, who were battling in the courts to save their home, but did not have legal representation. This family’s experience is all too common – their financial limitations, language barriers and lack of legal knowledge resulted in unfair legal outcomes that were remedied when they received expert legal advice and representation. The barristers who provided their time and expertise pro bono made a big difference to Betty and Maria.
The Victorian Bar supports the strong pro bono culture within Victoria’s legal sector, including the formal networks with Victoria Legal Aid, the Courts and Justice Connect, and by recognising pro bono achievements through our biennial Pro Bono Awards. Many barristers contribute pro bono legal assistance to those whose access to justice would otherwise be hampered by social, economic and cultural barriers through the Victorian Bar Pro Bono Scheme and via other informal relationships.
This week, we “turned on” the Victorian Bar’s new online pro bono platform—a hub for making, receiving and administering court-based pro bono referrals to barristers. This platform is the next iteration of our long and proud history of pro bono work and will hopefully encourage more support as it simplifies the referral process from Victorian courts. I would like to acknowledge the significant financial contribution of the Legal Services Board + Commissioner and the significant in-kind contribution from Icon Agency to the development of the platform. The Pro Bono Committee has also been invaluable in working closely with the Bar administration in designing, developing and testing the platform.
A key part of access to justice is the availability of timely hearings. In Wednesday’s “In Conversation” webinar, Her Honour Judge Lisa Hannan, Chief Magistrate of Victoria, and Daniel Gurvich QC, Barrister and Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, talked about how the Magistrates’ Court is tackling the impact of COVID-19. Her Honour listed as her key priority when the pandemic struck the understanding that the Court could never, and would never, close its doors, and talked about how the Court successfully managed the pandemic-induced relisting of 60,000 cases. The Chief Magistrate particularly acknowledged the cooperation and flexibility of members of the Bar, solicitors and members of the Law Institute of Victoria, staff at Court Services Victoria, Victoria Legal Aid, the Victoria Police and prosecutors – everyone’s willingness to be flexible and assist the Court in the common goal of finding solutions to unprecedented problems.
I’d like to thank all Victorian Bar members for their camaraderie and cooperation with others across the profession, and I am looking forward to sharing more stories involving barristers making a difference in the community.
Finally, we have just had news this afternoon that the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court are extending the face-to-face protocols currently in place to allow urgent trials and urgent hearings of applications that cannot be conducted by Microsoft Teams to be heard in face-to-face hearings commencing 15 June 2020. The announcement by His Honour Chief Justice Alstergren is here.