November news

We are pleased to share our November update which includes our 2019-2020 Annual Report, information on two new Life Members and the appointment of our 2021 Trainee Lawyer.

2019/2020 Annual Report

The Fitzroy Legal Service Annual General Meeting was held on Thursday 26 November where our 2019/2020 Annual Report was released.  The Report outlines the significant work of our staff and volunteers, and can be read here.

FLS Board Members

Current Board members Mick Sheehy and Karri Walker were elected for a further three year term at the Annual General Meeting, whilst Chanphyna Bou has been elected to the Board for the first time.

Mick is a recognised international leader in the field of legal innovation and transformation, having won numerous international legal innovation awards and with his work the subject of a case study for Harvard Law School. He joined PwC as a partner in October 2018 to build and run PwC’s Australian NewLaw practice, focused on providing strategic consulting, technology and outsourcing solutions to legal departments.

Karri is Nyiyaparli woman whose family is from the Pilbara and has grown up on Wurrundjeri country. Karri works as a lawyer in the Public Commercial team at Arnold Bloch Leibler and is the co-chair of the ABL Indigenous Solidarity Network. She is also the Co-President of Tarwirri, the Indigenous lawyers and law students association.

Chanphyna is a lawyer with Victoria Legal Aid in their Shepparton office and was a member of the Darebin Community Legal Centre Committee of Management until the amalgamation.  Post amalgamation, Chanphyna has been a member of the FLS People Committee.

The Annual General Meeting was also an opportunity to farewell Bonnie Renou who has stepped down from the FLS Board.  Fellow Board Member Tim Christensen outlined Bonnie's immense contribution to FLS and the Darebin Community Legal Centre:

"As many of you would know, Bonnie is a tireless advocate for social justice and positive evidence based grassroots change, having worked for many years as a welfare worker, before becoming a lawyer. Bonnie has worked extensively across the community legal sector which is where I was lucky enough to learn from her as a trainee lawyer and develop a lasting friendship . In recent years Bonnie has gone to the Bar, where amongst other things, she continues to advocate for survivors of family violence, all in the midst of becoming a new mum to a gorgeous kid, building a new home and a new legal practice.

Bonnie originally became involved with the Darebin Community Legal Centre through her involvement with the Prisoner Rights Legal Clinic. She later joined the board of management, and was instrumental in revitalising it’s ranks with a highly diverse range of passionate, talented people, each with a strong connection to the community and the organisation.

Bonnie regularly picked up the slack, assisting in executive functions when requested by the Darebin management team, going well above and beyond the call of duty.

Importantly, Bonnie was pivotal in progressing negotiations with the former Fitzroy Legal Service Board regarding what became a successful merger between the two great organisations, liaising with relevant stakeholders, legal aid, and attending countless project team meetings before the vote was put to our now collective membership.

As a board-member for the new combined Fitzroy Legal Service, Bonnie has contributed to the creation of a new strategy and has continued to provide a unique and insightful voice, that is human and community centred.

Bonnie, your good humour, empathy, integrity, excellent judgment and commitment to the people of Fitzroy and Darebin will be sorely missed. On behalf of my colleagues and our members, I would like to thank you for your service."

New FLS Life Members

Two new Life Members were inducted at the 2020 Annual General Meeting.

Bruce McBain

Bruce McBain

Bruce has been a night service volunteer from 2008 until March 2020 when the service was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Bruce has also made an extraordinary contribution to the governance of Fitzroy Legal Service as a member of the Finance Committee from 2009 to 2014, the Treasurer from 2011 to 2014, then the Chair of the Finance, Audit and Risk Committee in 2014, a member of the Strategy and Risk Review Committee from 2015 to 2017 and as Chair of the Board from 18 February 2014 to 31 January 2019.   Bruce's steady leadership in all of the positions he has held, has helped guide FLS, particularly during the amalgamation with the Darebin Community Legal Centre.

Vu Dang

Vu Dang

Vu has been a volunteer in the FLS night service for over 11 years.  Vu's dedication to the night service is unwavering and he consistently volunteers twice a week – in the generalist clinic on a Monday and the Family Law clinic on a Wednesday - whilst also working full time and then making a long commute home to the outer western suburbs.   Vu is one of our most reliable and committed volunteer lawyers.  His work in the night service is diligent, self-reliant and is of exceptional value, providing assistance when working closely with Vietnamese clients in overcoming language barriers.

"A Just and Equitable COVID Recovery" Report

The Federation of CLCs has released their plan A Just and Equitable COVID Recovery which outlines recommendations that would help embed protections for those members of our community most impacted by disadvantage, discrimination and injustice, and ensure they are not left behind in the recovery of our state.

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt across almost all facets of life in Victoria, from education, housing and work, through to the experience of family violence and conditions in our prison system. We have all seen first-hand how this pandemic, and the relevant laws and policies, has affected the Victorian community, especially those people most affected by discrimination and injustice.

A just and equitable recovery must:

  • protect the welfare and human rights of people in prison throughout the COVID recovery, and move towards a safer prison system
  • expand and entrench vital protections for financially disadvantaged Victorians
  • improve the fairness and resilience of our housing systems
  • make sure no workers are left behind in Victoria’s economic rebuild
  • embed access to justice for all victim-survivors and build on best practice legal supports in measures to respond to the ‘shadow pandemic’
  • protect children and young people impacted by the crisis and keep them out of the justice system

The report has been produced with direct and indirect contributions from across the Community Legal Centre sector. It is based on the comments, advice, feedback and general expertise garnered from the sector to identify a way forward out of COVID for our state and in particular those we know are most at risk of falling through the cracks. 

2021 Trainee Lawyer

Over 190 applications were received for the FLS 2021 Trainee Lawyer position, the only position of its kind in the Victorian CLC sector, and made possible through the generosity of our pro bono partner Allens.  Following a thorough recruitment process, Sahema Saberi has been appointed to this position and will commence with FLS in February 2021. 

With so many talented law graduates wanting to start their careers in the CLC sector, FLS would welcome the opportunity to employ a second trainee lawyer and would be pleased to discuss funding/partnership opportunities with any organisations who may be interested to support such an initiative.

Sahema shares a bit about herself in the profile below.

What attracted you to working at FLS?

Fitzroy Legal Service offers people an equal opportunity to legal advice and representation, and defend their human rights. The opportunity to undertake intensive training in social justice issues, particularly to defend people who do not have the means to, as well as to better understand the gaps in law, is what attracted me to FLS. I was also the inaugural recipient of the Elizabeth Gray Scholarship at the University of Melbourne. Elizabeth was a former lawyer at the FLS and unfortunately passed away at quite a young age. I am honored to be recognised as someone who holds similar social justice aspirations as Elizabeth and hope to contribute to her former workplace. 

What will your Trainee Lawyer role involve?

My role will involve a range of professional development opportunities designed to improve my skills and knowledge to become a successful CLC lawyer. I will be working with FLS lawyers assisting in drafting correspondences, taking instructions from clients, preparing briefs and management of casework files. I will also have the opportunity to be involved in community development, education, policy, strategic litigation and law reform work.   

A little background about yourself:

  • Where were you born? My family is originally from Ghazni in Afghanistan. As a Hazara it was not safe for my father and his family to continue living in Afghanistan or Pakistan where most Hazaras live, and for us to pursue further education in both these countries. As a result, my father sought asylum in Australia in 1999. We lived in Pakistan while my father was recognised as a refugee and waited for us to join him. We came to Australia six years later in 2005. 
  • Where did you grow up? Since resettling in Australia, I have lived in Dandenong, Melbourne. I love the restaurants and the familiarity of being home in Dandenong. There is a large Hazara population here who run very successful businesses in the area. 
  • Where did you study? After finishing year 12, I started studying Science at Monash University. I then completed an honours research in Understanding of Mental Health in Young Hazara Refugees and Asylum Seekers at the University of Melbourne. I had always wanted to become a medical doctor and was offered to study graduate medicine in the UK following this honours research. However during this research opportunity, I also realised that medicine may not be the way to make the social changes I wanted to make in our community. I then went on to study the Juris Doctor at the University of Melbourne and finished with a first class honours in Legal Research. 

What led you to want to study law?

  • Any family connections to the Law? I am the first child out of seven to have gone to university and graduate with two degrees. This is quite common for Hazaras who have been oppressed and denied equal opportunities in academic and professional fields in our countries of origin. My parents have not been to school themselves. For these reasons, pursuing further education was absolutely essential to me. My opportunities have allowed me to navigate through years of oppression that Hazaras continue to face in Afghanistan and Pakistan today. Throughout my journey, I have used every opportunity to assist young Hazaras to pursue their academic dreams too and I hope to continue doing so. 

What do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies or travel? If you have travelled, anywhere special?

I love cooking. I think it would be safe to say that my 14 year old brother (co-chef) and I are the only ones that enjoy the end product at times. The two of us also play soccer with friends every weekend. I love travelling and have particularly enjoyed the snow in Finland. I went to Thailand last year and absolutely loved the seafood options and the green mango salad. 

Victoria Law Foundation (VLF) Knowledge Grant

We are thrilled to have been awarded a VLF Knowledge Grant which will allow us to explore how civil legal and social issues contribute to women’s involvement in the criminal justice system, particularly how unmet civil legal and social need escalate and compound pathways to women being criminalised.   In partnership with La Trobe University’s Centre for Health, Law and Society, this project will draw on data from existing casework and conduct interviews with a range of professionals working in legal, community, housing, and family violence sectors to map the intersection of civil and social needs of women experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage with their involvement in the criminal justice system.   Through this project, we aim to develop a model or framework to capture knowledge and information from casework to be used in our advocacy.

#GivingTuesday - 1 December 2020

Giving Tuesday is a global movement encouraging community members to give back to the organisations making a difference in people’s lives. For one day each year, individuals, communities and business come together to give their time, money, goods or voices, to celebrate and thank Australian not-for-profits.

Giving Tuesday

If you are in a position to support our work, please consider making a donation.  Donations over $2 are tax deductible and can be made via our website https://www.fitzroy-legal.org.au/donate.