By Edmund Simpson
I am currently in my second month of a project taken through the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights – La Trobe Refugee Program (ALHR- LTU). The Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, or ALHR, is an association of legal professionals who actively promote awareness of international human rights standards in Australia. The ALHR also provides assistance to victims of human rights violations in Australia. They pursue these objectives through increasing knowledge and training of human rights law within the legal community itself. These objectives are facilitated through the provision of training, education, publications, Clinical Legal Education courses, mentoring and internships.
One of the reasons I enrolled in the LLB at La Trobe University was because of the La Trobe Law School’s strong emphasis on social justice. This orientation reflects my own values and interests. In 2015, ALHR and La Trobe signed a memorandum of understanding. The ALHR-LTU agreement is a particularly good example of the way that La Trobe University promotes social justice and simultaneously enhances the skills and training of its law students by partnering with a human rights organisation.
Through my participation in the ‘Refugee Group’ I am contributing to two projects conducted under the auspices of ALHR-LTU. The first project requires us to assist the ALHR in developing a registry of pro bono legal providers throughout Australia to help refugees and asylum seekers obtain better access to legal advice and assistance. The second project involves editing and further developing a draft position paper on refugees and asylum seekers. The position paper deals with many critical legal issues currently faced by refugees and asylum seekers in Australia. It has been exciting to apply some of the legal skills and knowledge developed in my law studies into the real life situations that are considered in these projects. I have particularly enjoyed researching the fundamental legal principle of access to justice in the context of Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. It wasn’t until I commenced this project that I had any real comprehension of the significance of legal principles, such as access to justice and the rule of law.
The projects are a collaborative effort between myself and three other La Trobe law students. The work involved in such projects has proved to be challenging, exciting and engaging. The program is structured similarly to a professional working environment and provides us with considerable autonomy as to how we tackle each task. That being said, we are also given ample support and guidance through our weekly meetings with our supervisor. The workload is substantial, but manageable for students who are undertaking a full time study load. The projects are also well balanced between practical and theoretical issues, so students are able to develop both areas of their legal skills.
But it is more than the application of knowledge and skills that makes these projects worthwhile. It is the awareness that they could positively contribute to some of the most disadvantaged members of the community, by enabling them to obtain access to legal services. Furthermore, it reinforces the importance of public discussions and awareness of the legal issues confronting refugees and asylum seekers. I highly recommend any law students who are interested in volunteering or taking a human rights elective to consider participating in the ALHR-LTU program.
Edmund Simpson is currently in his penultimate year of a Bachelor of Laws (graduate entry).