When second year law student Ellen Turner began her pro bono placement, she never imagined that just three weeks later she would be sitting in the High Court of Australia, assisting with a case.
I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to do my pro bono work with the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre (RILC) in Melbourne, at a time when they were preparing to take a case to the High Court of Australia in Canberra.
RILC is a community legal centre which assists asylum seekers, refugees and disadvantaged migrants in the community and in detention. The centre helps around 5,000 people every year.
This particular case was brought to RILC back in late 2013 and looked at challenging the Commonwealth Parliament and the Minister for Immigration’sMigration Regulations – which place a ‘cap’ on the number of protection visas awarded each financial year.
My part in helping with the case was to research certain sections of the Migration Act 1958, find Second Reading Speeches and Explanatory Memorandums which supported the case, and to familiarise myself with both our plaintiff’s and the respondent’s submissions.
The case was scheduled for two court days as RILC had joined our case, M150, with another case, M279 to be heard at the same time, as these challenges were similar enough. The M279 case also looked at challenging the ‘cap’ placed on permanent protection visas, but it also dealt with sections in the Migration Act about unwanted boat arrivals and mandatory detention.
On Wednesday 14 May at 10am the case began in front of a full bench of seven justices.The grandness of the building and the inside of the courtroom was amazing. I sat with Greg Hanson and David Manne from RILC in the general public area. We were right behind our counsel’s table and were able to communicate with them in case they needed us to find any materials in the High Court law library or if David needed to give counsel certain instructions. While David acts on behalf of the client, he had referred this case to Allens Law Firm to represent the client in court.
This was such an invaluable experience for me. Not many cases make their way to the High Court, and even many solicitors and barristers have not had the opportunity to be a part of a High Court case – making my experience even more incredible.
During law school I have read many High Court judgements, however it was different actually hearing the questions asked from the bench and watching how the Justices react to counsel’s oral submissions. It was also fantastic to be able to sit in the practitioner’s offices with our counsel and take note of how they prepare, and of what goes on behind the scenes of a hearing.
The decision of the High Court was delivered on 20 June 2014 with a unanimous decision in favour of the plaintiff (RILC’s client). This meant that the minister’s determination made on 4 March 2014 pursuant to s 85 of the Migration Act was invalid and so the court provided relief by a writ of mandamus directing the minister to consider and determine the plaintiff’s application for a Protection (Class XA) visa according to law.
This decision greatly impacted a number of people who were awaiting decisions on their protection visa applications. RILC does an incredible job and I am grateful that they allowed me to participate in one of their many cases that make a difference to so many people’s lives.
Induction days for commencing Law students will be held in on the Melbourne and Sydney Campuses in February.