Our Pro Bono practice primarily focuses on not-for-profit law, refugee and citizenship law, climate justice, wills and estates, employment law, administrative law, property and leasing law, dispute resolution and strategic litigation.
We work collaboratively with community organisations to offer legal advice and assistance to people who are disadvantaged or marginalised and do not qualify for legal aid. We also provide a range of pro bono services such as community legal education, law reform and research work, administrative and litigation support, staff secondments to community organisations and financial assistance.
Russell Kennedy is a proud member of Justice Connect and the Law Institute of Victoria legal assistance service (LIVLAS). We also accept referrals from community legal centres, social services organisations and other not-for-profit organisations.
Russell Kennedy has been a signatory to the National Pro Bono Target since 2011.
All applications for pro bono assistance are assessed against our pro bono policy which considers their relevance to human rights principles, the impact of the outcome and the public interest.
In 2018, the Pro Bono Practice, led by senior associate Arti Chetty, was successful in bringing eleven refugees, and their family members, to Australia for urgent medical treatment, including for acute psychiatric conditions. The Pro Bono Practice achieved these outcomes through direct negotiation and via urgent interlocutory applications filed in the Federal Court of Australia.
Through these applications, the Pro Bono Practice built essential case law, creating legal context for the transfer of adults from Nauru and Manus Island for urgent medical treatment. See for example, DRB18 v Minister for Home Affairs  FCA 1163, ELF18 v Minister for Home Affairs  FCA 1368 and EHW18 v Minister for Home Affairs  FCA 1350.
Emma Dunlevie, our Pro Bono Manager, received the coveted 'Access to Justice’ award at the 2018 Victorian Legal Awards 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 is also proud to be a member of the “Legacy Caseload Working Group” which received the Access to Justice award at the 2017 Victorian Legal Awards.
Changes to Commonwealth law in December 2014 mean that asylum seekers who arrived by boat between 13 August 2012 and 1 January 2014 are diverted through a fast-track assessment process at the discretion of the Department of Home Affairs.
They do not have any right to a review hearing if their claim for protection is rejected. At the same time, most of this group lost access to adequate legal assistance, subjecting them to unfair decision-making processes and the significant risk of being returned to countries where they are not safe.
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 asylum seekers subject to that process with legal assistance.
For the period February 2016 to October 2017, Russell Kennedy partnered with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to run a fortnightly clinic to assist “Legacy Caseload” asylum seekers prepare their protection visa applications. Russell Kennedy is proud of this partnership which assisted the most vulnerable in our community and sought to address an unprecedented situation of unmet legal need and lack of legal funding.
Russell Kennedy has a long-standing partnership with Peninsula Community Legal Centre. Under this partnership we provide training in specific areas of law, legal advice, and mentoring programmes, along with ad hoc initiatives. A key focus of our pro bono work is in providing services that strengthen the capability of lawyers and community sector workers to support women and children affected by family violence.