We have had another success for one of our pro bono clients before the High Court, in the decision last month in Williams v Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council  HCA 4.
Our client, Mr Williams, has lived since 1989 in a property provided by the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council. His home is in substantial disrepair, and Mr Williams wanted the Council to undertake the necessary repair work. (As a geographical side note, Wreck Bay is within the Jervis Bay Territory, and is subject to ACT laws).
Mr Williams argued that the Council has obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 (ACT) to keep its leased premises in a reasonable state of repair. The Council argued that as its power to grant leases came through the Aboriginal Land Grant (Jervis Bay Territory) Act 1986 (Cth), the Residential Tenancies Act did not apply to the lease.
The High Court overturned the ACT Court of Appeal's decision and instead has determined that the Residential Tenancies Act is capable of operating concurrently with the Aboriginal Land Grant (Jervis Bay Territory) Act. The Court noted that for the Council to argue that it was not subject to the standard residential tenancy statutory protections:
"is to argue against the equal application to all … of laws calculated to preserve the health, safety and dignity of tenants".
The decision means that Mr Williams and dozens of other residents of the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community who lease property from the Council enjoy the same protections as other tenants under a residential tenancy agreement. This case paves the way for their clear access to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal for orders to repair their homes and obtain compensatory damages.
This case was run by Caroline Bush and her Public Sector team, who have worked with our client and the Tenants Union ACT since 2016 on this matter. Special thanks to our counsel, Geoffrey Kennett SC of Tenth Floor Chambers, for his amazing work (both before the Court of Appeal and High Court) on a pro bono basis.
Clayton Utz conducts Australia's largest pro bono practice, led by two dedicated pro bono partners. In FY2018 we provided 39,148 hours of pro bono work to low-income and vulnerable people who could not obtain legal aid and to not-for-profits which support low-income and vulnerable people.