Law students defeat Dutton’s character test

Law students are behind a life-changing pro bono program securing major court wins for asylum seekers facing deportation from Australia.

Australian Catholic University’s Refugee Law Project (RLP) has secured two victories in one week after tackling legal teams acting for Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

The David and Goliath victories were the latest for the RLP team of barristers who work with the assistance of students from ACU’s Thomas More Law School students.

On August 19, the Federal Court found a 36-year-old Iranian asylum-seeker had been unfairly denied a bridging visa on character grounds.

Two days later the Full Federal Court found another Iranian asylum-seeker had been denied procedural fairness when he was refused a Safe Haven Enterprise visa. The man, who had represented himself in the Federal Circuit Court and who did not speak English proficiently, had raised concerns about documentation, and had sought an adjournment to deal with this, which had been denied by the Federal Circuit Court judge, who also refused to allow the interpreter to interpret his judgment.

RLP founder Victor Kline was the pro bono barrister in both cases and was assisted in court by final year ACU undergraduates. “As a law student you tend to live in a theoretical bubble,” he said. “To get out there and help a guy access a justice system that works would be phenomenal, and for some, life-changing.”

ACU Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws student Nina Rigor worked on the case involving the 36-year-old man who had previous drug-related convictions. She assisted Mr Kline who successfully argued that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal did not consider that the man had been self-medicating for back pain.

“It feels fantastic to be part of this,” Ms Rigor said. “It’s really rewarding to have spoken to the asylum seeker one-on-one, and not just about law. Then it’s really exciting and eye-opening to have contributed to winning a case on the grounds of fairness.”

It was the third win this year for the RLP which offers support to asylum seekers who are considering taking their cases to court. English is their second language and many have little faith in the legal process.

During their law degree program, undergraduates are required to perform two units, or a total of 160 hours, of pro bono legal service and many choose to do this by assisting refugees through the Refugee Law Project.

“This isn’t filing, this is going into court, meeting clients, analysing documents, corresponding with the Minister’s solicitors and making recommendations to one of our team of pro bono barristers,” Mr Kline said.

“This is an enormous shot in the arm, not just for the program, but for the other students. It tells them they really can make a difference.”


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