Casework as Law Reform
STRATEGIC CASEWORK – ASSISTING CLIENTS AND ACHIEVING LAW REFORM
What is Strategic Casework?
Many Community Legal Centres engage in “strategic casework”: this is assistance with a matter which has the potential to assist the individual client, but also to improve or clarify that particular area of law or practice for other people. Alternatively, it is an opportunity to raise an issue of public interest (via an individual case) to start public discussion.
It is strategic because by assisting one person, there is potential to improve the system for many people.
For example, as the following two examples shows, assistance to one person can target a particular Government or private business practice which is unfair or inappropriate.
Fixing problems with the postal service
After waiting several years, residents of Stanley Village on the outskirts of Moree in NSW celebrated their first mail delivery from Australia Post in early 2010.
A Stanley Village resident, Mr Alf Priestly, had asked Australia Post to deliver mail to his community, but to no avail. Instead, the people of Stanley Village had to travel to the Moree Post Office, a journey that proved difficult for many residents because of the lack of public transport in the area.
In July 2008, Mr Priestly approached the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) to help resolve the problem. PIAC contacted Australia Post on Mr Priestly's behalf, reminding them of their Australia-wide community services obligations. After some discussion, Australia Post agreed to deliver mail to Stanley Village.
PIAC also contacted the Moree Shire Council, which agreed to donate money towards the cost of installing mailboxes for Stanley Village.
'PIAC became involved in the matter because of its interest in ensuring the equal provision of services to remote Indigenous communities', said PIAC solicitor Ms Lizzie Simpson.
'If we are serious about improving services to Indigenous Australians, then ensuring that Indigenous Australians get their mail is a good place to start.'
Any community experiencing a similar problem to is encouraged to contact PIAC on 02 8898 6500 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Failure to Provide Ballot Paper in Braille is Unlawful Discrimination
NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Centre and Ms Kate Eastman, of Counsel, on a pro bono basis, represented Mr Darren Fittler earlier this year with a successful outcome.
The decision, handed down by the NSW Administrative Decisions’ Tribunal, stated that the NSW Electoral Commission indirectly discriminated against Darren Fittler, who is blind, on the basis of his disability when it failed to provide him with a ballot paper printed in Braille for the Randwick City Council election in March 2004.
Mr Fittler, requested a Braille ballot paper four weeks prior to the election so that he could cast his vote privately and independently like every other Australian.
The Tribunal found that Mr Fittler’s request for a ballot paper in Braille was a reasonable one and ordered that the NSW Electoral Commission pay him $5,000 for hurt and humiliation he said that he suffered as a consequence of the Commission's conduct.
This is a significant decision which upholds our notions of participatory democracy and in particular the right to a secret vote as the central feature of our democratic electoral system.
Following the decision, the NSW Electoral Commission agreed to make Braille voting papers available for vision impaired persons for the NSW Local Government Election on September 13 2008. This allowed vision impaired persons to cast a vote using a Braille ballot paper as a pre-poll, postal or ordinary voter, the same as voters without vision impairments.
Mr Fittler’s efforts, and those of the NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Centre and Barrister Kate Eastman in representing him, have resulted in an important step forward for the provision of accessible voting services, regardless of disability. The NSW Electoral Commission has also introduced a number of other measures to improve access, such as new cardboard polling boxes with improved depth perception for the slot; chunky pencils for ease of grip; and lower booths for wheelchair access.
Strategic casework can also involve representing a person or organisation in a court matter. This occurs in a case where, in addition to assisting the individual, there is potential to clarify or change the court’s interpretation of a particular law for all future cases.
Meaning of "Exeptional circumstances", when discharging an adoption
Women's Legal Services NSW acted for a woman in NSW Supreme Court proceedings, who was seking to have her childhood adoption order discharged. After the death of her natural father "Carl", Susan (not her real name) was adopted by her mother and step-father "Ralph". A new birth certificatte for Susan was issued, showing "Ralph" as her father. She was sexualy abused by her adopted father "Ralph" as a child and sought the discharge of the adoption order to regain her identity and to alleviate her psychological trauma. The Attorney General appeared in the case as amicus curiae ("friend of the court"). Debra Harris appeared as counsel for our client Susan pro bono (free of charge).
The case was novel in that there was no case law on what constitutes 'exceptional circumstances' for the discharge of an adoption order. Justice Palmer agreed to discharge the adoption order and his reasons form a ‘guideline judgment’ on the issue; Re Susan  NSWSC 592.
The risk of a costs order is a significant factor when considering litigation. Natasha Case, Senior Solicitor at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) conducted a presentation on protective costs orders in October 2010 as part of a panel presentation at the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) national conference. This powerpoint presentation is available to download by clicking here or the title above.