Internship at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency

28 March 2011

Photograph by Ted Sealey

Fourth year Arts/Law student, Kate Lindeman provided this report from her recent internship experience at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency.

The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) provides free, culturally appropriate and accessible legal services to Indigenous Australians in both urban and remote communities in the vast region spanning Katherine to Darwin and the islands beyond in the Northern Territory. NAAJA is comprised of three sections: criminal, civil and advocacy, thereby providing an array of legal services ranging from advice clinics to court representation, as well as offering community legal education sessions and lobbying government organizations on behalf of the Indigenous community.

Over the summer, I spent six weeks interning in NAAJA's civil law section based in Darwin. During the course of my internship I was involved in a diverse range of matters including child protection and adult guardianship hearings, property seizure matters, fatal injuries compensation claims, police torts, coronial inquiries and numerous 'Crime Victims Services Unit' claims (the equivalent of our 'Victims Compensation Scheme' in NSW). I had the opportunity to take instruction from clients both at clinics and in prison, to travel to the Tiwi Islands to take affidavits from remote clients, to assist in preparations for an upcoming Supreme Court child protection appeal, and to attend a settlement conference for a civil suit arising out of a domestic violence/manslaughter matter. I was also involved in a number of NAAJA's policy initiatives, such as their submissions on the oppressive effects of ATM fees in remote communities.

The legal experience I gained from my time at NAAJA was invaluable and the lawyers' enthusiasm, professionalism and tireless work to ensure the best possible outcomes for their clients were infinitely impressive. The lengths lawyers would go to in order to take instruction from remote clients to ensure that they received just outcomes was constantly a source of inspiration and motivation. All staff were keen to ensure that I had interesting and challenging work at all times, and I quickly learnt the, at times very different, Northern Territory legal frameworks within which NAAJA advises its clients. Most significantly, I began to develop an appreciation for the intricacies of Indigenous Australian culture, and the complexities arising out of attempts to enforce 'white man's law' in communities where people's understanding of the world is vastly removed from that upon which 'white man's law' is based. Watching lawyers attempt to explain concepts such as the rationale behind property seizure legislation to remote clients, often via translators, was both inspiring and somewhat mystifying, as I began to question the relevance of this law to these people, and the value it adds to their already complex social systems.

My internship at NAAJA was perhaps the most fascinating and rewarding experience of my law degree thus far. The Sydney Law School Student Activity Grant scheme assisted me in undertaking this work, which like much social justice legal work was unpaid. In making opportunities such as my internship at NAAJA more accessible to students, the grant scheme allows students to pursue legal interests beyond the classroom, which in my experience allows us to develop a critical understanding of how the law operates in practice and contributes to a well-rounded legal education.

Kate received funding through the Sydney Law School's Student Activity Grants scheme.

Sydney Law School gratefully acknowledges the generosity of alumni and friends who donated to the Student Activity Grant Scheme during the recent Sydney Development Fund Spring appeal.

Thank you for helping us to create opportunities for students to participate in a range of worthwhile extra-curricular projects and activities in support of their study.

Contact: Greg Sherington

Phone: +61 2 9351 0202

Email: 04022d03442a225d27033f2d46183811151c280b360b1d323d1040503c