Justice and Human Rights aren’t luxury goods

This is a guest post. If you’re interested in writing one, let me know – noble.ptm@bigpond.com

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Peter’s US adventures have been so intriguing to follow. Not just because of the interesting people he’s met and the impressive work he’s seen. And not just because of the unique combination of food and exercise tips he’s gathered along the way. But also because of the potential of the medical legal partnership model and its application in Australia.

At the Public Interest Law Clearing House in Victoria we’ve been running co-located outreach legal services for more than 10 years, via our Homeless Persons Legal Clinic (HPLC) and our Seniors Rights Legal Clinic. These have been very successful. We’ve helped well over 5,000 vulnerable, marginalised and disadvantaged clients in that time, using the resources of dedicated and highly skilled lawyers from Melbourne’s best law firms.

We’ve recently undertaken a comprehensive review of the HPLC, which has confirmed that outreach services are the best way to reach those who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.  But it also highlighted that we haven’t been as effective at connecting with our location partners as we could.  Typically, for the HPLC, these have been crisis accommodation and homelessness support services.  In some cases, we have been operating a clinic at their premises for 10 years. Despite this, we have not become integrated into their service delivery model. While cross referral happens, it sometimes feels like legal services remain a mystery to many of our location partners.

There are many reasons for this, but one is that we haven’t had an intentional strategy to engage our location partners.  And in turn, this is because we haven’t had a framework for articulating why closer collaboration and partnership with us would benefit their service delivery and ultimately their clients. I’m intrigued by the potential of MLP to offer this.  The US experience of points to a compelling framework to help us at PILCH explain why legal services are so important to disadvantaged people, and why they should be included alongside health, counselling and case work services.

But beyond this, I’m even more excited by the potential embedded in a quote from Pete’s blog post on 4 April, when he visited the cradle of MLP in Boston. He wrote:

The Hirsh Program “…fosters an interdisciplinary approach to the study of health law, health policy, health care, and public health.”  This strategic shift will locate MLP into the center of public health debate and policy formation and give fuller expression to the vision of the Center as a national resource.

Wow.  I believe passionately in the importance of access to justice and the realisation of human rights as being critical to creating a more equal and just society. I’m also acutely aware of how far we have to go to achieving this. I’m convinced that the answer lies in part in the kind of collaboration and partnership which this quote highlights.  Imagine a world where legal services – justice and human rights – are located in the centre of public health debates and policy formation, instead of being viewed as luxury goods.  Now that would be something to be part of.

Fiona McLeay 
Executive Director
Public Interest Law Clearing House (Vic) Inc

17/461 Bourke St Melbourne VIC 3000
P (03) 8636 4405 · F (03) 8636 4455 · www.pilch.org.au

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