Funded by the Queensland and Australian Governments, Legal Aid Queensland (LAQ) gives legal help to financially disadvantaged people on criminal, family and civil law matters. Two students, Kimberley and Michaela, spent five days at LAQ.
Our week started with an induction and run through of a timetable provided by the lovely senior human resources officer, Jan Hawes. After lunch, we had the privilege of meeting Paul Davey, LAQ’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer. We learnt about the relationship between LAQ and the state and federal governments, and about LAQ’s Brisbane office and 13 regional offices.
Our discussion with Paul about LAQ’s progress led to a discussion about the increase of Domestic Violence Protection Orders in places like Southport, and the increased number of victims feeling safer in coming forward to the police, LAQ and other similar services as a direct result of targeted initiatives.
For more information on the Queensland Government's response to domestic and family violence, visit www.qld.gov.au/domesticviolence.
Other exciting news discussed was LAQ's role in reaching those who cannot afford private legal representatives and those who are unaware of their legal rights, clearly reflecting LAQ’s purpose of providing access to justice.
It was fantastic talking to Paul and discussing these issues with him. It’s clear he’s very proud (and should be too!) of LAQ’s achievements both in its internal management and external service quality.
Now that we were on our second day and had a chance to settle into the LAQ office, we were introduced to one of the principal lawyers in the Family Law Services team who provided us with an overview of family law generally, an area neither of us had any previous experience with. It was interesting to hear the wide variety of issues seen by the family lawyers at LAQ and the kind of things they typically assist with. We attended court and had the opportunity to see various hearings. As it was so eloquently put by the principal lawyer, we were able to see the distinct styles maintained in the courtroom by the different judges. Most interestingly, we were able to watch a part of the cross-examination of a party to a family law matter.
We then spent the afternoon with the First Advice Contact Team (FACT) which is where initial advice is provided to clients over the phone. We both sat with different lawyers and listened in on the advice sessions. It was very inspiring to see how the lawyers were able to think quickly and provide advice, given the limited details about the legal issue they had prior to calling the client.
“Other exciting news discussed was LAQ's role in reaching those who cannot afford private legal representatives and those who are unaware of their legal rights, clearly reflecting LAQ’s purpose of providing access to justice.”
On Wednesday, we both got to shadow lawyers who were part of LAQ's Criminal Law Services team. Our day began at the Brisbane Magistrates Court and was very interesting, intense and exciting! It was astounding watching the two lawyers give personal briefs to each client about what they were charged with, what the court proceedings would entail and what possible outcomes were likely to occur preceding each case. A lot was learnt about Police Prosecutions and their job in prosecuting offenders in the Magistrates Court.
It was very inspiring to learn that duty lawyers are lawyers provided by LAQ that sit in different offices across the various courthouses free of charge for LAQ clients and those who do not have legal representation. This truly defined the notion of equal access to justice because it meant if someone was in trouble with the law, they wouldn’t be alone and can have someone there who would advocate on someone’s behalf.
The best part of this experience was that we were encouraged to participate and learn via involvement. This included being beside our respective duty lawyers in our consultation rooms, sitting with clients one-on-one and discussing their legal issues, past priors and other details, discussing possible outcomes for their case and then being with them in the actual court room with the Magistrate. It was an awesome experience and many, many invaluable things were learnt that day!
Consumer Lawyer Paul Holmes.
We met with Paul Holmes, one of the lawyers in the Consumer Protection Unit, who would be giving advice over the phone on all things debt related. In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to spend time in the anti-discrimination team. We were introduced to Matilda Alexander, another of the lawyers in the team, who would be giving advice to clients over the phone that afternoon. We were able to sit and listen to the advice sessions where the client was able to recount their stories and the discrimination they had faced. It was eye-opening to hear the accounts from those most disadvantaged in Queensland and the treatment they had received from others based on things like gender, race and family commitments. It was hard to believe some of the treatment that the clients had gone through.
To start our morning off, we met Criminal Law Services Coordinator Patrick O’Brien in LAQ's Criminal Law Services team. We were told we would head over to the Brisbane Supreme Court to see one of the cases advocated by Robert East (LAQ Deputy Public Defender). What really got us engaged that day was the fact that we were provided with background information for the case, including who was involved, what the legal issues were and the legal outline of the arguments by the defence and the prosecution. Patrick asked us what we thought the issues were in the case and encouraged us to ask questions about it in order to gain a better understanding of the trial.
During the trial, we were given the printed outlines of the arguments, so it was much easier to follow what the judge, prosecution and defence were saying. Usually when visiting courts you have to listen attentively to get the gist of what is being said in order to form an understanding of the case yourself. This was completely different because we felt like we were part of the actual defence team!
“It was very inspiring to see how the lawyers were able to think quickly and provide advice given the limited details about the legal issue they had prior to calling the client.”
Our visit to the Supreme Court was very interesting as we saw the lawyers advocate on behalf of their clients. This taught us that organisation is key regarding legal outlines, as this helps the judges quickly and efficiently understand the details of the case, which then allows them to make effective decisions. So FYI fellow law students, legal outlines aren’t just a law school thing. It is a professional legal skill that is crucial in dealing with cases.
Afterwards, Patrick introduced us to Peter Delibaltas (Criminal Law Services Director). Just when the day could not get any better, Patrick suggested we meet Robert East (Deputy Public Defender) — the actual LAQ barrister we witnessed during the day at the Supreme Court trial.
We were encouraged by Patrick to ask Robert many questions and it was clear the admiration Patrick had for Robert, which made it even more exciting to meet him. Robert’s passion for social justice was reflected in the way he shared his personal story of what inspired him to pursue criminal law. It felt as though his emphasis was on justice as an opportunity or a second chance, which was inspiring. He then shared his thoughts about the case that we had witnessed and you could definitely see why he was passionate in defending his client.
What we learnt from this experience was an appreciation of the great work that Legal Aid Queensland does for Queensland residents, and the respect and support their lawyers deserve from the community. It was an interesting insight into the world of social justice and it was an experience that will never be forgotten. We went into this journey thinking it would be work experience, but came out with life experience. As a result, one of us is now applying to volunteer in some of the community legal centres around Brisbane because of this journey.
Overall we had a fantastic time and we were so busy engaging with our relevant coordinators and tasks for the day that we forgot to take pictures! This really says a lot about how good the LAQ team were at engaging our minds and attention in our Justice Journey with them. The LAQ team were amazing and their tireless efforts for social justice are inspiring. We want to say a massive thank you to them and wish to see them again very soon!