Justice in regional and remote Australia, with Haley Allan
Haley Allan is quick to downplay her successes.
She sidesteps acknowledgment as the 2018 West Australian Lawyer of the Year to focus on the issues facing her clients and regional and remote communities.
In a few weeks Piddington is heading up north for our annual Broome Conference where Allan is presenting.
We spoke to her about her work at LegalAid in Broome and about justice outside of the cities.
At the Conference she’s intending to speak to attendees about the unique ethical and general challenges facing lawyers in regional and remote Australia.
How does access to justice differ in the regions than cities?
For starters, a significant portion of Kimberley clients do not speak English as a first language which creates an instant barrier to genuine access to justice and only one of courts in the West Kimberley has interview rooms and that creates issues with confidentiality, which means your often taking instructions under a tree somewhere.
In addition to that, regional areas inevitably experience a lack of resources and that means that services, programs and community work are simply not options in many places that our clients live.
I’ve seen many criminal records that are full of just fines or jail with a person never having had the opportunity to be placed on an order and therefore never having had therapeutic intervention to address the underlying issues of their offending.
The other main differences are the obstacles created by isolation, extreme weather and the fact that we only have one Magistrate expected to cover all areas of law, and limited legal services.
It’s not unusual for every local service to be conflicted out of helping someone and it’s just a conflict minefield that you are constantly trying to manage for your own professional protection as well as the client’s best interests.
How does your day differ from what happens for lawyers in, say, Perth
Sometimes my work commute is a half hour journey in an eight seater plane sitting inches from the Magistrate or Prosecutor, along the stunning Kimberley coastline.
The main difference when living and working in a small town is that my work life never really ends because clients and stakeholders are everywhere. Coles, the pub, my mate’s party, my son’s friends, my doctor’s reception area…everywhere.
You tend to have closer relationships with stakeholder agency staff simply because you live in such a small town.
My Legal Aid house is next door to a Police house so it’s not unusual for me to be picking holes in my neighbour’s evidence by day and then having a chat about our dogs barking through the fence while putting the bins out that night. You do tend to become quite ingrained in a family’s life as well because you might be representing them across criminal, care and protection and civil jurisdictions all at once.
After six and a half years in Broome trying to maintain boundaries, I’ve just accepted that I’ll forever be taking instructions while doing my grocery shopping and giving clients lifts all over the place (which is actually a very effective way of getting instructions).
Also, we don’t have to wear jackets on account of living on the surface of the sun.
What does justice mean to you?
Justice to me revolves around empowering people to make decisions for themselves.
It’s often tempting to tell a client the obvious answer especially when you only have five minutes, or they don’t understand English never mind legal lingo, and it’s a minor matter and the evidence is overwhelming.
My role is to take the time to explain everything in whatever language I can so that a client is comfortable making a decision for themselves, that they believe will lead to a fair and just outcome.
If they need more time to understand a simple disorderly behaviour, adjourn and catch up with them later. It’s a simple disorderly to me but it’s important for a client to understand and be heard by their lawyer and by the court.
It’s their life, their criminal record and their future.
Plus if they understand the whole process, they may be less likely to make the same mistake again.
It’s not for me to decide their plea, I can only give them all of the required information they need to make that decision.
You’re Lawyer of the Year, what took you from being a first year out junior lawyer to a leader amongst your peers?
This was a mystery to me and I’m very grateful for the awards but I’m fairly certain I didn’t pop up on anyone’s radar for my strategic courtroom prowess.
My awards focused on what I do outside the courtroom in terms of rolling up my sleeves and doing something to contribute to addressing the issues that lead clients into a courtroom in the first place.
I’ve spent my whole legal career working with disadvantaged human beings and I think it’s important to always remember that’s what clients are - human beings who deserve to be treated with respect, especially as they trust you with their most intimate personal details, at a time when they are usually at rock bottom.
That respect extends to everyone from the court orderly to the Prosecutor.
What does your downtime look like?
After spending most days in criminal court, seeing the utter despair that many of our clients live in, I genuinely enjoy volunteering and organise fundraising events to make my community a better place.
To really switch off, I enjoy a good camping trip in a location without phone reception.
Piddington looks forward to you joining us at the Broome Conference, August 17–19.