QPILCH News - Issue 36 - October 2015

Dear Colleagues,

QPILCH members gathered last night for our AGM and released our annual report. The report shows a very full year of providing access to justice to the most vulnerable in our communities. Thank you to all our members, supporters and partners whose hard work made it possible.

Below, you can read more stories about how we have been able to help clients in profound ways, with the pro bono support of the legal profession.

We thank Corrs, K&L Gates, Sparke Helmore and AGS who have all recently provided secondees to help coordinate our services.

There have been some personnel changes recently - our management committee farewelled Noela L'Estrange as she finished her term as CEO of the Queensland Law Society, and welcomed Bronwyn Neroni to take her place as QLS representative. Richard Hundt of McCullough Robertson has handed over to Gabriella Ritchie as a law firm representative. We thank Noela and Richard for their contributions.

The 2015-16 management committee is: Lucy Bretherton (President), Matthew Jones (Secretary & Treasurer), Bronwyn Neroni, Kathryn McMillan QC, Judith McNamara, Rochelle Carey, Andrew Buchanan, Matthew Holmes, Gabriella Ritchie, Robert Reed and Katharine Philp.

Referrals Coordinator Catherine Browning has finished up after 5 years with the Referral Service, and so members will now receive referral requests from new Referrals Coordinator Tim Laird (Public Interest matters) and Ben Tuckett (QLS/BAQ matters).

We have recently welcomed new members barristers Claire Schneider, Emma Hoiberg, Chris Templeton, Kristi Riedel, John Cahill, Steven Jones, Kate Slack, Toby Nielsen and Jeremy Trost, and law firms CBP Lawyers, Baker & McKenzie and Harper Finch Lawyers. A full list of QPILCH members is available here.

Finally, we are delighted to announce that Queensland's new Chief Justice, the Honourable Catherine Holmes SC will be QPILCH's new patron.

Working with Lawfunder

QPILCH is the first Australian community legal centre to crowdfund in partnership with LawFunder.org. The founder and law graduate, Sean Roche, conceived LawFunder during our 2015 Queensland Legal Walk when he was alerted to the plight of many Australians who are unable to gain access to justice. The idea of LawFunder is for many hands to make light work - many people contribute relatively small, tax deductable amounts in order for us to be able to help those most marginalised in our community.

Any donations to QPILCH through Lawfunder will support our Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic, which helps the most marginalised people in our community. The HPLC opened over 1200 new client files last year. Please visit Lawfunder to join our crowdfunding team and help Lawfunder to grow.

Students explore representation in guardianship matters

Earlier this year 6 students from TC Beirne School of Law at the University of Queensland conducted socio-legal research into the Guardianship and Administration regime in Queensland as part of QPILCH's Public Interest Research Clinic ("PIRC"). This is part of a broader effort by the Guardianship and Administration Network (GAA), a subcommittee of the Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services (QAILS) to review the social impact of the law in this area. Read more

Legalpediaqld goes live

QPILCH has migrated its educational materials from the website to a new wiki platform, legalpediaqld. While still in its infancy, we hope to populate the site with new public information as it comes available. It has handy information such as the limitation schedule that Clayton Utz has updated for many years. Our litigation factsheets for self-represented litigants are there as are a couple of policy papers such as Queensland's perspective on pro bono. The utility of a wiki platform is that we hope to update the materials with the support of our skilled members. We intend to prepare an update schedule for referral, thus spreading the load to keep the resources current.

Great outcomes for clients

Keeping families together with help in QCAT

Jack* wanted to look after his young nephew, who was under a child protection order. To become an approved kinship carer, Jack needed a Blue Card, but his application was rejected. Jack needed to apply to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a review of the Public Safety Business Agency's decision, but couldn't afford to engage a lawyer.

QCAT registry staff referred Jack to QPILCH's Self Representation Service, which provides free legal advice and assistance to self-represented parties throughout the course of their proceedings. Jack met with volunteer solicitors from Minter Ellison and Clayton Utz. Volunteers empowered Jack to effectively self-represent in the Tribunal by providing procedural advice and prepared him for the hearing by drafting legal submissions in support of the application.

The Tribunal granted Jack's application and issued him with a positive notice to hold a Blue Card. As a result of the assistance, Jack's nephew is now under the care of a loving family member, rather than in foster care.

HPLC gets outcome for chronically homeless man impacted by the criminal justice system and SPER fines

People experiencing homelessness and chronic disadvantage are disproportionately affected by criminal justice responses, particularly regarding the management of public space and the use of public transport. Our Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic (HPLC) undertakes innovative legal advocacy and provides representation and advice to vulnerable people about their criminal justice interactions.

Jason's* story shows how our HPLC effectively supports clients who are facing pressure and being entrenched in debt by Queensland's criminal justice system.

Jason is a 33 year-old Aboriginal man from North Queensland. He has been chronically homeless for a number of years and mostly sleeping rough. During his adult life, Jason has struggled with personal hardship and health concerns, and has struggled to positively engage with crisis or community support services.

Jason completed the Legal Health Check with his support worker at a specialist homelessness agency in Cairns and identified that he wanted legal help to resolve his SPER debt of over $17,600. Over the years, Jason had been fined over 100 times for minor criminal offences mostly related to his homelessness, including being drunk in public, public nuisance and shoplifting.

The HPLC advised Jason about his legal rights and options, helping him to successfully apply for a Fine Option Order to work off the majority of his SPER debt through community service at a local homelessness agency.

Helping a mental health client to move to voluntary treatment

Ashley* was placed on an Involuntary Treatment Order ("ITO") in 2013. In March 2014, Ashley returned from hospital to living in the community but remained on the ITO. Ashley continued to take her medication and was attending appointments but felt her doctors were not taking her perspective into account.

Ashley became a client of the Mental Health Law Practice ("MHLP") after her ITO was confirmed at a Mental Health Review Tribunal hearing in early 2015. Ashley wanted to have an early review of her ITO. The MHLP gave Ashley advice about applying for an early review and Ashley decided to wait for the automatic review hearing.

When Ashley's automatic review hearing came up, the MHLP arranged an advocate to assist at the hearing, which was adjourned because the Tribunal decided they needed more information. The same advocate helped Ashley at the rescheduled hearing. The advocate worked on submissions that incorporated Ashley's point of view. The submissions focused on Ashley's willingness to take her medication, her compliance with treatment and the fact that she was not at risk to herself or others. The advocate also highlighted Ashley's connections with her community and her academic achievements. At the hearing the Tribunal agreed that the treatment criteria no longer applied and revoked the ITO.

Ashley said "I was able to present very well because I had someone beside me who was a professional and knew the law. If I didn't have someone who understood, I would still be on an ITO. QPILCH had been willing to accept what I had to say when others were not, and having an advocate with me gave me confidence in a daunting situation".

Scott Gruar, who was the volunteer advocate for Ashley, said that he really enjoyed helping her and that the genuine thanks he received really made him feel like he was making a difference.

Client in trouble over guarantee given for ex-husband's business

Jenny*, a pensioner with severe disabilities, was served with a judgment debt of $220,000 and notice of intended foreclosure on her home mortgage to the creditor bank. Jenny was connected to our Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic in Townsville by the Women's Centre.

The debt was claimed under a guarantee Jenny had given many years prior in respect of liabilities of her ex-husband's building company. Jenny derived no benefit and had no interest in the company.

Relying on equitable principles protecting innocent guarantor spouses, we successfully negotiated to enable Jenny to sell her home (avoiding a bank fire sale) and a waiver of half the judgment debt.

We thank volunteers Megan Heywood, Kerri Fredericks and Nicole Butler from Fredericks Heywood who helped Jenny.

Volunteers help elderly house-cleaner to keep her home

Hilda* was an elderly widow who did some house-cleaning work for a mortgage broker. The broker persuaded Hilda to take out a mortgage on her home for $130,000 to invest in a business of one of the broker's customers.

When the business failed, Hilda defaulted on her mortgage and approached the Self Representation Service, seeking urgent assistance to file a defence.

QPILCH member Norton Rose Fulbright assisted Hilda to file a defence. Volunteers from Barry.Nilsson Lawyers, DibbsBarker, Bartley Cohen and Corrs Chambers Westgarth then helped Hilda to make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service. FOS negotiated a settlement between Hilda and the mortgagee, reducing the debt owed to $9,000 (the value of a car Hilda purchased) and allowing Hilda to keep her home.

*All clients' stories have been de-identified to protect their privacy

Annual Report 2014 - 2015 »

HPLC Street Soccer Tournament

The fourth annual Street Soccer Tournament of our Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic (HPLC) was held on 19 August 2015 at Brisbane's New Farm Park, in partnership with the Big Issue's Street Soccer program.

The 2015 HPLC Street Soccer Tournament was kindly supported by the Hon. Yvette D'Ath MP, State Attorney-General, the Lady Bowen Trust, HPLC partner firms, community host agencies and other stakeholders, offering a socially inclusive event for vulnerable and marginalised Queenslanders. Read more...

Red Wine for Justice

On 30 July, QPILCH supporters raised almost $20,000 at an evening of good company and fine wines. Thank you to everyone who attended, donated or bought wines, hosts King & Wood Mallesons, guest speaker Robert Channon of Robert Channon Wines and auctioneer Jason Scott of Apollo Auctions. This biannual event will next be held in 2017.