25 Oct 2013

Pro bono partnership between CU and Anti-Slavery Australia recognised with 2013 Law & Justice Foundation award

Sydney, 25 October 2013: A unique pro bono partnership between Clayton Utz and Anti-Slavery Australia (ASA) which opened up a new path to statutory compensation for women who were sex-trafficked into Australia was this week awarded the NSW Law & Justice Foundation's Pro Bono Partnership Award [1] for 2013.

Hundreds of women are sex-trafficked into Australia each year, a large proportion from South-East Asia, including Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. They are forced to work in degrading and oppressive conditions, and to provide sexual services, against their will, to repay "debts" to their captors. Many are also threatened with harm to themselves or their family, and threats of deportation.

ASA is a long-term advocate for changes to laws and policies that improve the protection of the rights of people who have been trafficked or enslaved. While the Federal government has made concerted efforts to address human trafficking and slavery into Australia through criminal legislation and policy reform, until the Clayton Utz-ASA partnership, there remained a lack of a clear and accessible civil remedies for victims of these crimes.

The Award recognises the pioneering work of Clayton Utz and ASA in developing a model for obtaining victims compensation for victims of sex-trafficking on the basis that that the slavery conditions these women experienced meant that consent to providing sexual services was absent, and that the women were therefore victims of multiple sexual assaults. Prior to the Clayton Utz-ASA partnership, which began in 2009, no-one had recognised the possibility of victims compensation for sex-trafficked women.

In the 2012-2013 financial year, Clayton Utz and ASA obtained over $1 million in statutory compensation for trafficked clients in NSW. The model has also been used successfully to obtain statutory compensation for victims trafficked into Queensland and the ACT.

Clayton Utz pro bono partner David Hillard praised the work of ASA and other organisations that have dedicated time and resources to helping victims of trafficking and slavery find hope for the future. "Through our work with ASA, and our Pro Bono practice, we have met women who have experienced unspeakable treatment and indignities at the hands of traffickers, who have forced them into acts of sexual servitude as "repayment" of huge debts, in some cases up to $60,000 or more, money they could never hope to repay in a lifetime. Finding a way to help these women exercise their legal rights to claim compensation will not erase their suffering, but recognises that what happened to them was wrong, and is substantial enough to make real differences to their lives so they are not relegated to being 'victims' any longer."

This is the second time that a pro bono partnership involving Clayton Utz has been recognised by the Law and Justice Foundation. In 2011, the Sexual Assault Communications Privilege (SACP) project, a collaboration between law firms Clayton Utz, Ashurst and Herbert Smith Freehills, community legal centre Women's Legal Services NSW, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the NSW Bar Association, was awarded the Pro Bono Partnership for work in bringing about important legal reform which resulted in the establishment of a permanent, state-wide service dedicated to advising and representing victims to assert SACP.

Clayton Utz was also nominated for the Law and Justice Foundation 2013 Pro Bono Partnership Award for its partnership with Redfern Legal Centre in respect of unfair dismissal representation at Fair Work Australia telephone conciliations.

[1] The Pro Bono Partnership Award is presented to a partnership comprising a private law firm, community organisation and/or community legal centre in NSW which has developed an innovative and outstanding pro bono legal assistance relationship, resulting in improved access to justice for disadvantaged people in the community. Back to article

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