I decided to apply for the Aurora Internship Program as a fourth year Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws student. I aspire to use my education to work towards a legal system that reflects the equal worth of all people, especially the Traditional Owners of Australia. I was keen to help an under-resourced organisation doing important work in this sphere. I hadn’t had any experience in the legal field, and was keen to develop my practical legal skills and gain greater insight into the community legal centre (CLC) context, learning from the inspiring professionals that dedicate themselves to justice.
I was placed at Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Services (CAALAS) in Alice Springs for the winter placement (June-July) in 2016. CAALAS provides high quality advice and representation and advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in Central Australia.
Everyone at CAALAS was welcoming, kind, patient and generous with their time and knowledge. We shared many meals together and shared great banter over hot chips and beers on Friday afternoons. CAALAS solicitors, and in particularly Jonathan McCarthy, ensure that interns have exposure to a variety of work and experience in the areas of law that interest them.
Working with the Civil team
I watched an appeal in court, drafted memoranda of advice, completed research, participated in professional development sessions, obtained statutory declarations from clients and their relatives, drafted letters to clients, and undertook some file management. I developed my research and writing skills, gained an insight into civil procedure in practice, and learnt about the range of legal issues that affect Indigenous Australians in Central Australia.
A highlight was attending the Mental Health Review Tribunal. The MHRT is an independent panel set up to make decisions about the treatment and care of people in the Northern Territory who suffer from a mental illness or mental disturbance. CAALAS lawyers represented clients who were before the tribunal because of matters about (amongst other things) remaining an in/voluntary patient inside or outside of a mental health facility.
• Types of matters: medical negligence, motor car accidents, personal injury, freedom of information, discrimination, contracts, housing, and organisational and corporate governance.
Working with the Criminal team
I shadowed lawyers in court and saw bail applications, pleadings, sentencing and a hearing, undertook research tasks, communicated with clients in remote communities, and reviewed upcoming appeals. Going to the cells with lawyers to take instructions from clients – often with the aid of interpreters – was an eye-opening and fascinating experience.
In my final week I was fortunate enough to accompany a CAALAS criminal lawyer to Bush Court in Kintore, a remote community 5 hours drive from Alice Springs. This was particularly special because the court only sits in Kintore four times a year. The aim is to make justice accessible, even for those living in remote areas of the country. This is an admirable but challenging aspiration. Nonetheless, it was very motivating to watch the cooperation between the local police and CAALAS, working to attain the best outcomes for members of the community.
• Types of matters: aggravated assault, drink driving, theft, robbery, and property damage, breach of domestic violence orders.
Alice Springs is an interesting, rural town with enough happening to keep you busy. I attended the annual Beanie Festival, went camping and bushwalking on weekends, danced at live music nights, attending art exhibitions, and met some fantastic people. I would recommend the winter placement as the sun is shining but the weather is manageable!
If you're interested in volunteering for an organisation doing important work for vulnerable people and having the opportunity to develop your skills in one of the most beautiful parts of Australia, I would recommend interning with CAALAS.
Applications for summer 2016/17 internships through the Aurora Internship Program are open now through August 26 2016. For more information, please visit: http://auroraproject.com.au/internship-program