QPILCH News - Issue 37 - December 2015

As we complete another busy year, we would like to thank everyone for their support throughout 2015. Thank you to all the volunteer lawyers, firms, barristers, students, universities and all our partners and supporters. Due to your efforts we have been able to provide pro bono legal support to thousands of disadvantaged Queenslanders. Whether you have volunteered at a clinic, taken on a pro bono matter, donated to QPILCH or attended a fundraising event, you have helped to provide access to justice to vulnerable people in our society. This has an immense impact in the lives of our clients. We look forward to your continued support in 2016, as we continue to connect the pro bono capacity of the profession to the area of greatest need. The management committee and staff wish you a happy and relaxed Christmas.

National Disability Award for Karen Williams

On 25 November 2015, the Hon. Christian Porter MP, Minister for Social Services presented our own Karen Williams with National Disability Award for Excellence in Advocacy for her work in developing the Health Advocacy Legal Clinic. The Health Advocacy Legal Clinic, operating out of St Vincent's Hospital, provides a unique form of legal and health advocacy for patients with a disability or chronic illness.

The National Disability Awards, run in conjunction with the International Day of People with a Disability, celebrate the efforts of individuals and organisations working to improve the lives of people living with a disability. Nominees are assessed by an independent panel on their impact on the lives of people with disabilities and their commitment to upholding the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Barrister Karen Williams was recognised as having "driven the development of a new style of student advocacy and legal clinic which brings together lawyers, medicos and social workers."

The Health Advocacy Legal Clinic recognises that people with chronic illness and disability often have complex legal problems. The Clinic aims to uphold the medical and legal rights of these people. The Clinic also helps people with disability to develop Advance Care Plans, allowing them some control over their medical care.

We congratulate Karen and the Health Advocacy Legal Clinic volunteers for their work throughout the year. We also thank the TC Beirne School of Law, the Queensland University of Technology Social Work Department and Griffith University School of Medicine for their support of the clinic.

Welcome to new members

We welcome HopgoodGanim Lawyers as our newest member firm, along with new member barristers Ajith Perera, Clem van der Weegen, Borcsa Vass and Polina Kinchina. We thank them for their interest in and commitment to pro bono. A full list of QPILCH members is available here here.

Homeless Connect

On 18 November 2015, our Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic (HPLC) volunteer lawyers and staff attended Brisbane City Council's Homeless Connect event. Homeless Connect allows community and government providers to offer free legal advice, services and supplies, including medical care and clothing, to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The event also provides a valuable opportunity to connect new clients to the HPLC and to strengthen our collaboration with service providers in the homelessness and social service sectors. The HPLC has been involved with Homeless Connect since its inception and is grateful to be part of an event that has helped over 13,500 vulnerable Queenslanders.

We acknowledge the following HPLC partner firms for their generous support of Homeless Connect: McCullough Robertson, Clayton Utz, Herbert Smith Freehills, Ashurst, Minter Ellison and Allens. We also thank the volunteer lawyers who attended the event.

HPLC achieves safe, sustainable housing for marginalised Queenslanders

Access to affordable and secure housing is a fundamental right. Our Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic (HPLC) collaborates with specialist community services to advocate for the rights of vulnerable Queenslanders to access and remain in safe accommodation.

The HPLC has helped several public housing tenants to avoid eviction into homelessness this year by responding to QCAT applications brought by the government under the Anti-Social Behaviour Management Policy.

When Meredith* connected with HPLC volunteer lawyers from Ashurst and MurphySchmidt at a Brisbane homeless hub, she was heavily pregnant with her third child and facing eviction from her public housing property on the basis of a drug possession charge. Although Meredith pleaded guilty to the charge, she told us that the drugs found at the property belonged to one of her relatives.

Meredith is a proud Aboriginal woman who has a history of mental health concerns. At the time of the offence that triggered the eviction, Meredith had been living in her house for a number of years and was actively engaging with local support services. With representation and advice from the HPLC, Meredith and her other children were able to remain in their house for the birth of Meredith's third child.

Mother wins right to be guardian for daughter with disability

Hayley* wished to be formally appointed as a guardian for her daughter, who had a long term disability. She had applied to QCAT and her application was dismissed. The Office of Public Guardian (OPG) was appointed instead, as Hayley's daughter had made allegations of sexual abuse against her father, Hayley's ex-husband.

Hayley needed help to lodge an appeal with QCAT. The Self Representation Service, in conjunction with Clayton Utz and Shine Lawyers, assisted Hayley to draft submissions for her appeal.

In response to Hayley's submissions, the OPG applied to withdraw the guardianship appointment and Hayley subsequently withdrew her appeal. Hayley is now acting as informal guardian for her daughter and is in the process of reapplying to the Tribunal for a formal appointment.

Hayley's daughter continues to have her mother care for her and is not a ward of the state.

Access to education for children with disabilities

Leigh* wanted to keep her son Daniel*, who had pervasive developmental disorder with autistic tendencies, in mainstream schooling. She had, over the preceding years, enrolled him in two different state primary schools.

Leigh alleged that Daniel was discriminated against by the school's arrangements, actions and assessment. The Self Representation Service, with volunteers from Wotton + Kearney, Henry Davis York and McInnes Wilson helped Leigh to understand the process of lodging a discrimination claim with the Federal Circuit Court.

Due to Federal Circuit Court rules concerning the representation of minors, Leigh had to obtain legal representation. The Self Representation Service and the Referral Service worked together to urgently secure representation for Leigh and Daniel. Bartley Cohen Litigation Lawyers and Sean Radich of Counsel accepted the referral.

During mediation between the legal team and the school a positive resolution was reached. While achieving a satisfactory resolution in these cases can be challenging, the pro bono practitioners involved all contributed to ensuring that the education system remains accessible and fair.

Disbursement Fund helps client to sustain employment

Each year, QPILCH supporters join fundraisers like the Queensland Legal Walk, to raise funds for improving access to justice. Some of those funds go towards to Disbursement Fund, which was established to cover outlays (aside from legal fees) in legal cases for disadvantaged Queenslanders.

The Disbursement Fund helps clients like Rachael*, who applied for a Blue Card but had her application refused. With the help of Caxton Legal Centre, Rachael applied to QCAT for a review of this decision. QCAT recommended she obtain an expert report describing her suitability for child-related employment, but Rachael could not afford to pay for a report nor cover the costs for this expert to be appear at the hearing to be cross-examined.

The cost of the expert's report and time spent in cross examination was covered by Caxton and supplemented by a contribution from the QPILCH Disbursement Fund.

The expert's report and verbal evidence was accorded significant weight by the decision-maker. The decision was overturned by QCAT and Rachael was issued a Blue Card, allowing her to pursue jobs and careers in child-related employment opportunities.

*All names have been changed to protect clients' privacy

Make a donation to QPILCH » To help us continue to provide access to justice across Queensland, please consider making a donation. Donations over $2.00 are tax-deductible.

Christmas closure

QPILCH will be closed on Christmas Eve, 24 December 2015 and will reopen on 4 January 2016.

Save the Date - 17 May 2016

The Queensland Legal Walk 2016 will be held on Tuesday 17 May 2016. The Walk is an annual event that raises funds to help QPILCH provide free legal assistance to disadvantaged and vulnerable Queenslanders. Please mark your diaries!

Other key dates for 2016 will be the One Hour Appeal in June, where we ask you to donate your hourly rate to QPILCH just before tax time, and the Public Interest Address on a date to be confirmed in August, where the guest speaker will be CREATE Foundation CEO, Jacqueline Reed.

Thank you CBP Lawyers

QPILCH thanks Colin Biggers & Paisley, who have made a generous donation in support of our Self Representation Service. CBP's donation will be used to cover the cost of employing a part-time solicitor for our QCAT office during a period of staff leave. Our member firms are the backbone of QPILCH and make an enormous contribution to access to justice for people and community groups who cannot otherwise afford legal services. Many firms help QPILCH out with secondments when needed.