Our clients' stories

Hope for aboriginal family violence survivor

Jemma, a 17 year old aboriginal girl, has already endured a lifetime of violence. In 2015, her ex-partner viciously stabbed her and convinced the community to ostracise her. Jemma had been sleeping rough ever since and received no income - her birth was never registered, so she didn’t have enough ID to claim Centrelink. When Jemma was 15, her daughter was taken from her care.  Her ex-partner told Jemma that Child Safety removed the child, but that was a lie – he and his family had taken the girl.

When Jemma attended an Aboriginal Health Centre in Cairns, she met with our LawRight indigenous lawyer. LawRight arranged for Jemma to get a birth certificate, a back payment from Centrelink, and sign a long term tenancy. Jemma learnt the truth from LawRight about her daughter’s removal and was connected to the local indigenous family violence service to arrange a reunification.
With the basics of housing, income and family no longer ignored, Jemma can begin her healing.
Jemma was helped by our indigenous lawyer in Cairns, who operates legal clinics at Wucopperen Aboriginal Health Centre and Douglas House crisis accommodation service with pro bono lawyers. Last year, LawRight helped 182 indigenous clients with 274 complex legal issues, to resolve housing, income and family violence problems.

Three years to end a doomed cycle

According to her community worker, teenager Bobby was on the road to prison – a fate that meets many young people exiting the Child Protection system. Bobby was already homeless, had accumulated 32 criminal charges and owed over $4000 of fines and debt. When she reluctantly met LawRight volunteer lawyers in the company of her community worker, she couldn’t look them in the eye or sit still long enough to ask for help. But the lawyers persisted.  

After one year of meeting with Bobby at a beach park, the lawyers had sorted out the debts, sorted out all the criminal charges, made an application for housing and helped Bobby access her Child Safety records. Bobby learnt that her intellectual disabilities had never been properly diagnosed.

After 2 years, the lawyers had connected Bobby to disability services and supported her to challenge a complex family violence dispute.

After 3 years, Bobby contacts her lawyers herself, when she needs them. She became  pregnant and worked with the lawyers to persuade Child Safety not to remove the child at birth. She is currently in stable housing, commits no crimes and is a loving mum who welcomes the wrap-around support of disability, child safety and legal services.
Bobby is helped by LegalPod, which currently provides 48 young people exiting state care with their own “pod’ of volunteer lawyers.  LegalPod aims to reduce the 88% homelessness risk of this cohort by giving young people a persistent lawyer who will address the housing, income, health and criminal problems which prevent a stable transition to independence. 11 law firms and 11 community agencies collaborate with LegalPod.

Michael gets it together

Michael had been unemployed for some time, his mental health had declined and he fell behind in everything, including his rent. He owed so much and could not cope with the court formalities, so the landlord obtained a default judgement at the Magistrates Court for the money owed.  By the time of the enforcement hearing Michael had found work, but his credit history and health were still at risk.

LawRight arranged a volunteer barrister to attend the enforcement hearing and advised Michael to negotiate a repayment plan and apply to set aside the default judgement. 

Without the stress of being constantly pursued by debt collectors, Michael can now focus on maintaining his employment and health.
Michael was helped by LawRight’s Duty Barrister schemes which targeted disadvantaged litigants in 3 locations -  the Brisbane Magistrates Court debt enforcement hearings, appeals in workers compensation matters to the  Queensland Industrial Relations Commission and child protection reviews to QCAT.

Townsville LawRight prevents injustice

Beth is a survivor of 20 years of family violence, with a deep need for safe accommodation. She moved to Townsville for a fresh start and rented a house, but a break and enter damaged the front security screen door.

Beth sought help from a women’s support service, where she was connected to visiting volunteer lawyers. The lawyers helped Beth through the formal process of asking the landlord to repair the screen, and giving notice to vacate the house, when her request was ignored. The landlord resisted all attempts at negotiation and instead filed an application to claim the rental bond. 

By now, Beth was living in her car, unable to rent anywhere until the bond dispute was sorted. 

Volunteer lawyers with the Townsville Self Representation Service helped a very frightened Beth to argue her case at QCAT. The QCAT member ordered the landlord to pay back the bond and a further 2 days rent.   The QCAT member also criticised the landlord’s management of the tenancy and handling of Beth’s dispute.

Beth was so relieved and proud of her success.
Beth was helped by our Townsville office, which coordinates pro bono outreach legal clinics at the Womens’ Centre and the Housing Connections Hub; coordinates volunteer lawyers at the Self Representation Service at local courts and tribunals and refers disadvantaged people to local lawyers for free legal services in complex matters. LawRight Townsville helped 336 clients last year with the support of 8 local law firms and 11 local barristers.

Better response to mental illness

Clare is 39 years old and has a part-time job.  She lives with her parents and hopes to attend university one day. Clare has significant and long-term mental illness which she is active in managing.  When her illness worsened, Clare followed her GP’s encouragement to voluntarily seek specialist help at a hospital, but the hospital placed her under a Treatment Authority (TA).  Clare wanted LawRight’s help with the review of the TA.

With pro bono legal support, Clare was able to prepare for the review – explaining that she was not at risk of harming herself or others and that she had extensive support. The Tribunal revoked the Treatment Authority. Clare’s mother cried and Clare was stunned and overjoyed. She said:  ‘I felt I was heard. I was just glad to be able to have [your help], especially because it was short notice. I am very grateful.’ 
Clare was helped by our Mental Health Law Practice. LawRight self-funds this statewide service to people under Treatment Authorities  who will not be represented at their review. The MHLP also visits locked wards and community mental health services to provide legal help  for other problems such as evictions, debts and criminal charges which prevent people with mental illness getting better. The MHLP assisted 277 clients in 2016-17.

Anna's story, in the words of her mum, Susan

"Two years ago Anna said 'no more'. She did not want any more medical intervention as she had seven years of going in and out of hospital.
Anna was born with Ring Chromosome 22 and had multiple brain tumours, which had become aggressive. The system didn't enable Anns to express her wishes through a Care Directive, as she couldn't sign or read the document - it was therefore not a legally binding document.
Anna worked alongside the team at HALC [LawRight's Health Advocacy Legal Clinic at St Vincent's Hospital] where she developed an Advance Care Plan which focused on Anna, the person, rather than Anna with a medical condition. It outlined who she was - outgoing, social butterfly, artistic, an accessories-guru and, most importantly, her likes and dislikes.

There was one page giving details of her multidisciplinary teams. It also outlined her 'end of life wishes', which clarified what was important to Anna.
She stated that she would like to be at home with family and friends, have flowers and music and go out in her car. She wanted a quality of life and no over-burdernsome treatments to keep her alive.

As it turned out it was only six months from completing the document that Anna collapsed and after a cat scan, Anna was given an option of another operation or approximately two months to live. Anna chose to rest at home.
I was able to share Anna's Advance Care Plan with her pallative team, nurses and support workers and they abided by it with much care and respect.
I found myself referring to the document regularly to ensure I was staying true to her wishes.
Anna's wishes were granted. She was home for seven weeks where she was showered with love, support, music, flowers and drives in her beloved blue car.
The Advance Care Plan made a huge difference to Anna's quality of life. The document was also very helpful for the Reverend who acted as the celebrant at Anna's Sacred Sunflower Service that the funeral was honouring Anna's wishes.
I am very grateful for the team at HALC for their valuable input to creating the template for Anna's Advance Care Plan and giving her the best outcome for her end of life and making her journey easier."

To honour Anna’s life, her mother Susan published “Universal Life Lessons from My Brilliant Blue Bohemian Butterfly”, which contains valuable information including 85 universal life lessons and links to organisations such as LawRight that made a difference to Anna's quality of life.  For more information see www.universallifelessons.com


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