Refugee Legal’s Corporate Clinic program responds to the demand on services from thousands of asylum seekers subject to the Australian Government’s Fast Track Assessment process.
Refugee Legal is an independent community legal centre specialising in refugee and immigration law, policy and practice. The project involves partnership with major corporate law firms including Allens who have been critical since the inception of the project in 2015.
- David Manne (Executive Director)
- Nicky Friedman (Corporate Partner)
- Bianca Detoma (Volunteer coordinator /project manager): Refugee & Immigration Legal Centre
Email: [email protected]
Introduction to the project
Started September 2015. With the Fast Track Process expected to continue under the current Australian Government, this project will remain in place as long as the need exists. We will be working with clients on reapplication in three and five year cycles. At this stage the clinic program is ongoing.
We also work with non-legal partners to assist clients to address additional complex needs including: Through the Bellarine-based Seeking Refuge Project, we were able to transport our effective clinic model to regional areas of Victoria.
Results of the Good Practice
The beneficiaries are thousands of asylum seekers who arrived by boat without visas in need of access to Refugee Legal’s unique free legal services, as they otherwise would not have been able to access vital help.
The Clinics have had a direct impact on the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms for asylum seekers in Australia, rapidly building and sustaining the capacity of the community legal sector to respond to the legal needs of many vulnerable clients.
As a result of the Clinics, there have been an increased number of people who are not refused protection visas on the basis of an inadequate application or assistance at review stages.
Main activities of the Good Practice
In 2015, the Australian Government ceased provision of funding to the community legal sector, which left thousands of asylum seekers who arrived by boat, without access to legal assistance to face the Fast Track Assessment (FTA) Process.
To develop an innovative model to enable us to respond to 30,000 asylum seekers who arrived by boat and needed to urgently apply for protection visas in Australia.
To provide high quality, free legal assistance through the leveraging of pro-bono legal support from corporate partners.
To develop a model that would respond to the changing policy landscape in Australia.
The corporate clinic program has been implemented in 2 stages;
We appointed a Volunteer Coordinator to facilitate the implementation of the project and further develop corporate relationships.
We built on existing corporate partnerships to develop a model to respond to the unprecedented demand on our services.
We took our highly skilled and trained team of pro-bono lawyers and provided further training to enable them to meet the changing needs of the fast track cohort as the government began processing clients. As a result, we were able to offer a responsive range of one-off appointments that met the legal needs of asylum seekers.
How it implements the objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees
Objective 2 (Enhance refugee self-reliance):
Access to free and competent advice and application assistance in this complex area of migration law is a key element of ensuring access to justice and equality before the law. Properly prepared visa applications lead to more efficient, fair and just administrative decisions. A fairer and more efficient process leads to faster integration, improved social and economic outcomes, and reduced burden on social services.
Reduced stress and uncertainty for people seeking asylum and their families knowing that they do not have to navigate the very complex and onerous procedures of the Fast Track Assessment process on their own without legal assistance.
Delivery of a compassionate, people-centred service that acknowledges and responds to the complexity of their needs.
In 2017, the Australian Government suddenly issued an arbitrary deadline which required people who were subject to the FTA process to apply for protection by 1 October. Any person who did not lodge their application by this deadline risked being deported without the Government hearing their case for protection.
After the October deadline, the legal needs of the Fast Track caseload continued. ‘Stage 2’ processing involved many thousands of people throughout Australia having their protection visa applications assessed, through interviews and later, at review. Many people, who were granted temporary protection visas in 2015, were also seeking our assistance to re-apply for protection in Australia.
How they were over come:
Through scaling up Refugee Legal’s Clinic model – relying on the skill, generosity and relationships built with corporate pro-bono firms - we provided essential free legal assistance to applicants in relation to processing of their claims and lodgement of initial protection applications to meet the October deadline.
The clinic has expanded to meet the additional demand of subsequent applications and review requests. There are approximately 15,534 people who are waiting to have their protection visa applications assessed and who need legal advice and assistance as the Government processes their applications.
Stage 2 processing is much more complex and multifaceted than Stage 1. However, the clinic model has been able to accommodate this change due to the flexible nature of the model and our focus on engaging in additional training as required.
Our team of supervising solicitors, volunteer paralegals and administrative support staff are able to deliver high volume, high quality, free expert and efficient protection claims assistance by partnering with corporate pro-bono legal volunteers.
We leverage the skills of over 550 volunteers, including 300+ pro bono corporate lawyers from major law firms, to provide this assistance, under the training and supervision of our team.
Stage 2 clinics have continued to meet the changing policy landscape effecting the Fast Track cohort.
We have strong and ongoing relationships with existing corporate partners and have added two new corporate firms to our team over the last 12 months.
Refugee Legal will continue investing in our clinic model and partnerships, including the provision of targeted training and supervision to pro-bono volunteers. This ensures all volunteers and pro-bono lawyers are able to work effectively in the clinic program.