Our Pro Bono practice primarily focuses on refugee and citizenship law; climate justice; not-for-profit law and corporate governance; workplace relations and discrimination; wills and estates; litigation and dispute resolution; and public law. We are committed to public interest litigation in the refugee and migration space.
Russell Kennedy Lawyers is a proud member of Justice Connect and has been a signatory to the National Pro Bono Target since 2011 which sets a target of 35 hours of pro bono legal services per lawyer per year. We consistently and significantly surpasses this target.
Russell Kennedy was proud to be one of 18 Australian law firms to have endorsed a law firm statement in support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2019, and its call for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament. We believe the Voice is a step towards meaningful reconciliation, recognition and unity with First Nations People. As a member of Australia’s National Pro Bono Target Community, we support a First Nations Voice to Parliament.
Notable Work and Community Partnerships
Russell Kennedy Lawyers represented proud Mununjali man, Mr Shayne Montgomery, in three significant Federal Court and High Court matters in which the Commonwealth sought to remove Mr Montgomery from Australia and attempt to overturn the principles set out in the landmark matter of Love; Thoms in which the High Court found that First Nations peoples cannot be considered ‘aliens’ under the Constitution and cannot, therefore, be subject to immigration detention or deportation.
Mr Montgomery was born in New Zealand and relocated to Australia when he was approximately 15 years old. He was absorbed into the Mununjali clan of southeast Queensland through traditional cultural adoption practices.
Russell Kennedy Lawyers represented Mr Montgomery at the Federal Court, where he challenged the government’s initial refusal to revoke the cancellation of his visa and made an application for habeas corpus alleging that, given the principles detailed in Love;Thoms, Mr Montgomery was unlawfully detained. Justice Derrington found that Mr Montgomery was unlawfully detained and ordered his immediate release from detention, after over 1000 days of incarceration and, further, ordered that the decision not to reinstate Mr Montgomery’s visa be reconsidered by the Minister.
The Commonwealth made two applications to the High Court arguing, amongst other things, that Love; Thoms was incorrectly decided and that, accordingly, Mr Montgomery continued to be subject to detention and deportation away from his family, including his five children. In the second High Court matter, four interveners made submissions in favour of Mr Montgomery (the Australian Human Rights Commission, the National Native Title Council, the Northern Land Council and the State of Victoria).
With our assistance, Mr Montgomery was able to successfully argue for the reinstatement of his visa.
Following the appointment of a new Labor government and at the request of the Commonwealth, the High Court granted Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus leave to withdraw the case against Mr Montgomery, effectively ending the previous government’s campaign to overturn Love; Thoms and a drawn out and distressing ordeal for Mr Montgomery and his family. Importantly, the principle that First Nations people, regardless of citizenship status, cannot be deported from their country remains, as it should, in recognition of the unique and special status enjoyed by First Nations in their country. No less important is Mr Montgomery’s ability to remain with his family, community, and country.
Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs & Anor v Montgomery – S192/2021
Montgomery v Minister or Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs & Anor  FCA 1423
Special Counsel, Arti Chetty, was a finalist in the Women in Law Awards - Pro Bono/Community Legal Centre Lawyer of the Year (2022), predominantly for her work on the Montgomery matters.
Counsel team for Mr Montgomery, Peter Willis SC, Matthew Albert, Evelyn Tadros and Angel Aleksov (led by Justin Gleeson SC), won the Victoria Bar Pro Bono Team Excellence Award (2023) for outstanding achievement in pro bono advocacy for their exceptional efforts for Mr Montgomery over three complex court matters which spanned a period of over two years.
Through our Pro Bono Practice, we have provided immigration assistance and worked on litigation matters for refugees and asylum seekers for many years. This work has provided essential assistance and helped address significant unmet legal need. We have also actively participated in the Refugee Law Reform Committee of the Law Institute of Victoria, and the Visa Cancellations & Citizenship Working Groups.
Pro Bono Practice Group Leader, Emma Dunlevie, received the Law Institute of Victoria’s Access to Justice Award in recognition of her role in building innovative partnerships with the community legal sector, and her legal assistance and coordination efforts in the refugee sector over many years.
Russell Kennedy Lawyers was a member of the ASRC’s “Legacy Caseload Working Group” which received the Access to Justice Award at the 2017 Victorian Legal Awards. The Legacy Caseload Working Group was initiated by the Law Institute of Victoria in 2015 to explore options for responding to the unmet legal need arising from the “fast track” process and to ensure a coordinated response in providing people seeking asylum subject to that process with legal assistance. We are proud of this partnership which assisted some of the most vulnerable in our community and sought to address an unprecedented situation of unmet legal need and lack of legal funding.
In 2018, the Pro Bono Practice was successful in bringing eleven refugees and their family members (also refugees) from Australia’s offshore detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island (PNG) to Australia for urgent medical treatment, including for acute psychiatric, ophthalmological, gynaecological, and urological needs. The Pro Bono Practice achieved these outcomes through direct negotiation with the Commonwealth and via urgent interlocutory applications filed in the Federal Court of Australia.
These matters created essential legal precedent for the urgent transfer of adults out of Nauru and PNG for medical treatment, with previous Court matters dealing with children’s matters. The exceptional work of our Pro Bono Practice, in collaboration particularly with the Human Rights Law Centre, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers and the National Justice Project, created the groundswell for further litigation which saw the transfer of many others to Australia for treatment of urgent medical need, many of them life-threatening.
These are some of the published judgments from our medical transfer matters:
Russell Kennedy Lawyers was a finalist in the 2019 Lawyers Weekly Australian Law Awards
Best Pro Bono Practice category, largely for our work in relation to the medical transfer matters.
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Gender Clinic
Russell Kennedy Lawyers has partnered with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s Gender Clinic since 2019. The Gender Clinic offers specialised immigration advice and legal assistance to clients (women and LGBTI-identifying) who have gender-based claims for asylum. This includes people facing persecution because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and women and children at risk of female genital mutilation and other violence. We are privileged to continue to assist the only specialised clinic of its sort in Australia.
Northern Community Legal Centre
We have previously partnered with the Northern Community Legal Centre (NCLC) and its pilot Indian Women’s Family Violence Project. Over a period of 2 years, we have provided the NCLC with fortnightly advice and mentoring sessions to support their work on this project which involved advising newly arrived Indian women experiencing family violence about their migration options.
The project increased the support and safety for these women and identified gaps in the family violence service system and state and federal laws which add to their vulnerability. Further information about this project, including its final findings and recommendations, can be found here.
Following the success of this pilot project, NCLC launched the Safe Landing Project which extended their service delivery model to include all women on temporary visas experiencing family violence in Melbourne's North-West. In 2022 the Program was funded for a further four years, and now extends into the city's South-East
Monash University Climate Justice Clinic
Russell Kennedy Lawyers is a proud partner of the Monash University Climate Justice Clinic (CJC), a specialised clinic of Monash Law School’s clinical program. The CJC was the first of its kind in Australia. It affords Monash Law students with the opportunity to work with experienced public-interest lawyers as they advise climate activists, climate NGOs and concerned citizens who wish to use legal tools and legal advocacy in the fight for climate justice.
Our lawyers have been seconded to the Climate Justice Clinic as Supervising Lawyers since its inception in August 2019.
Partnership with Peninsula Community Legal Centre
Russell Kennedy Lawyers has had a long-standing partnership with Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC) since 2009 which aims to strengthen PCLC’s capacity to deliver legal services to their clients in local municipalities. We accept referrals, provide training in specific areas of law, and we staff PCLC’s Elder Law Clinic, a free monthly elder law service at PCLC’s Rosebud office which offers advice to people aged 65 and over on a wide range of legal problems including wills and estates, powers of attorney, guardianship and administration, family law, infringements, tenancy, and physical or financial abuse.
Russell Kennedy was the recipient of PCLC’s “Pro Bono Award” in 2018 in recognition of the firm’s outstanding pro bono support and contribution to PCLC. In 2022, Consultant John Corcoran received PCLC’s Kath Neilsen Memorial Award, its highest honour, for his long standing work on elder law, most recently demonstrated by his monthly attendance at the PCLC Elder Law Clinic.
Youthlaw Legal Pod Program
Russell Kennedy Lawyers partners with Youthlaw in its Legal Pod Program. This is a Victoria-based legal service for young people aged 18 to 25 who are exiting out-of-home care. A team of our lawyers (the ‘legal pod’) work together to assist young people with various legal issues they may face as they leave care including debts, homelessness and infringements.
For young people with a history of significant hardship and trauma, accumulated fines and debts represent a substantial risk factor and often result in the matter going to court. Removing these risk factors from the equation helps young people to get back on their feet.
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service VOCAT Program
The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) was established as a community controlled Co-operative Society in 1973. VALS provides crucial legal support and services to First Nations people in Victoria in criminal, family, and civil law.
Russell Kennedy Lawyers has established a formal referral pathway with VALS to assist First Nations clients with Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) applications seeking compensation and costs following experiences of violent crime. The VOCAT work provides victims of crime with crucial financial assistance to allow them to recover from their experiences, including by paying the costs of medical treatment and counselling, relocation, home security and other essentials for recovery.
Cancer Council Legal Referral Service
The Cancer Council’s Legal Referral Service connects individuals experiencing cancer to professionals and partner organisations that can assist with their associated legal and financial matters. The service is an important source of support, as clients are often dealing with serious, and sometimes terminal, illness while simultaneously trying to manage the stress of addressing numerous legal issues.
Russell Kennedy Lawyers offers pro bono assistance with wills and estates and employment matters to clients referred through the service.