The Equal Justice Project (EJP) is a student-driven charity at the University of Auckland. Founded in 2005, it utilises the legal training and knowledge of volunteering law students to promote a culture of social equality, inclusivity and access to justice in both the local and wider community. EJP is divided into four teams – access, communications, community and pro bono – which law students can join to sharpen their legal skills as well as contribute to change in the community. Directors Sophie Vreeburg and Jane Wang say that 2019 has been a busy and productive year for EJP, and that work undertaken by the different teams has been greatly received by the wider legal community.
The access team has two main focal points: educational outreach and panel discussions. They deliver presentations at Auckland schools to educate youth on civic and legal topics, and also organise bi-annual symposia at the University of Auckland on pressing legal issues.
Team managers Samantha Noakes and Josie Butcher say there’s been a focus this year on extending their outreach programme into more schools, with a particular emphasis on lower decile schools. The team has doubled the amount of presentations from the previous year as well as making considerable headway in establishing contact with new organisations for the future.
Unforeseen circumstances meant that the access team was only able to deliver one panel this year. However, its panel on the Zero Carbon Bill, containing a diverse and insightful variety of perspectives, met with great success and a full theatre of both students and members of the public. Samantha and Josie are proud of their volunteers for doing amazing work in the schools and on creating the event.
The role of the communications team is to write articles on issues of law and policy, which are published on the EJP website as well as publications such as ADLS Inc’s LawNews and the University of Auckland magazines Craccum and Verbatim. The team also informs the public and spreads awareness about EJP through social media platforms and writes bill submissions for Parliament. It is important to communications that its material is non-partisan and easy to read for any member of the public, so that adequate discussion can be fostered around the law’s role in the promotion of social justice.
Communications managers Claudia Russell and Anuja Mitra are proud of the polished writing and detailed research that made the articles this year such a high standard. Content has varied widely, including but not limited to climate change, pay transparency, drug law reform, hate speech, and Oranga Tamariki.
This year some communications team members undertook research to submit on the Abortion Legislation Bill. Previous years’ submissions have been on other significant pieces of legislation such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (CPTPP) Bill, the Domestic Violence Victims Protection Bill, and the Te Ture Whenua Māori Land Act.
“With roughly 1,200 website visitors per month, we have slowly built up a readership that includes law students, members of the legal profession, and the wider community,” say Claudia and Anuja.
The community team focuses on providing community law centres and other community facilities around Auckland with ongoing assistance. Such centres and communities are important in providing advice and support to the most vulnerable people in our society who lack the means to afford representation or legal assistance. Volunteers are able to use their legal skills to provide assistance in these areas, as well as gaining real world experience.
This was Analeah Petaia's first year in the community team, and she was extremely grateful to have volunteered at the Mangere Community Law Centre. She says she not only gained invaluable skills and experience, but was able to apply the knowledge she has learnt at law school to serve those in the community that needed it. Another student volunteered at the Waitemata Community Law Centre. This experience gave them invaluable insight into the operation of our legal system beyond what is taught in class, and showed them how much it affects people’s lives. Acknowledging that many of the clients they dealt with came from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, they say volunteering at a community law centre is a great thing to do “if you perceive the many injustices people in various communities face”.
The team managers in 2019 were Katie Pigou, Aidan McManus and Tupou Valu. “Our volunteers worked very hard this year, working in the centres between 2-4 hours per week on a huge range of tasks such as client calls, follow ups, research and more,” says Katie. “In doing so, our volunteers continued to uphold EJP’s legacy and assist the wider community.”
The pro bono team, managed by Lucy Kelly and Rosa Gavey, prides itself on providing significant research and analytical support to academics, practitioners, community groups and interest organisations that share the goals and values of EJP.
The pro bono team undertook various projects in 2019, with the following being just a few. Their first main project was with the Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) campaign, whereby legal research and assistance was given relating to the acquisition and intended development of Ihumātao by Fletcher Building Ltd. Another major project was assisting HELP (Auckland Sexual Abuse Foundation) with research in relation to the rights of women, child and gender-diverse survivors of sexual abuse. Volunteers also created a comprehensive summary of current rights that asylum seekers in New Zealand have and the services that are available to them, both in the refugee determination status process and once they are refugees. Such research may be used to set up a refugee advocacy branch within EJP under the guidance of Anna Hood.
Often work of this nature can be tedious and time-consuming, but pro bono volunteers put in a lot of effort to ensure their research was of an exceptionally high calibre.
As 2019 comes to a close, it has been a time for reflection on the superb efforts of the volunteers and team managers as well as the directors. “We are extremely proud of the way in which our volunteers have represented our organisation and themselves in 2019,” says Sophie Vreeburg.
With Jane Wang departing, Carson Pike-Tavai will be replacing her next year. His main objective in becoming the new co-director is to implement measures to increase diversity and cohesiveness among volunteers so that they can hit the ground running in 2020 and build upon the strengths EJP has already developed.
Joshua Sade-Inia firstname.lastname@example.org is a law and arts student at the University of Auckland.