(Top left-right) Josh Josiah Bautista, law student; Vesna Josevski, financial counselling student; Sam Levy, Financial Counsellor, NJC; Sean Ghattas, Fines Clinic Project Officer, NJC (Bottom left-right) Michael Thompson, law student; Lucinda Tucker, financial counselling student; Duy Dinh Nhuyen, law student.
RMIT law and financial counselling students gave up each Friday of their summer holidays to help Neighbourhood Justice Centre’s clients resolve their infringement issues.
NJC’s popular Fines Clinic would have closed over summer were it not for the five students; instead 24 City of Yarra residents received intensive help and avoided increased debt or unnecessary court procedures.
Under the supervision of NJC’s resident Carlton/Fitzroy Financial Counselling Service and Fitzroy Legal Service, the students negotiated payment plans, advocated on behalf of clients, converted fines into community work, and had fines revoked.
Working with NJC’s onsite Corrections, registry, and treatment and support services gave the students valuable insight into the benefits of one-stop-justice.
Law student Josh Bautista said he had no idea there were so many services available, and whenever he ran into a brick wall, NJC’s network of services found solutions.
“It’s like there’s a secret communication between agencies. I didn’t think they talked to each other, but they do. We even had a direct line with Fines Victoria; I didn’t even think that was a thing.”
Students also heard from guest speakers from justice and social services, so they enjoyed an enriching intellectual experience on top of real-world case management experience.
While all Yarra residents can avail of the clinic, most live in public housing, have mental health issues, drug and/or alcohol dependency, are homeless, or are victims of family violence. A number are also refugees.
As law student Michael Thompson said, “If you don’t have English language skills, and don’t know how to navigate the system you end up with a bigger problem if you don’t get help.”
Said financial counselling student, Vesna Josevski “I thought coming to Australia was the solution. Sometimes it feels like their lives are harder. I’ve a greater awareness of the challenges people face.”
Additionally, as many clients were referred by NJC’s AoD and homeless services, students say they have a new appreciation for the adverse effects of disadvantage and personal trauma.
Financial counselling student Lucinda Tucker said fines can easily “fall of the radar” when other issues are in play, and the fear of having to face unknown consequences is equally paralysing.
“The average person on the street often doesn’t know how to deal with fines, much less people dealing with a lot of other issues. Then one day it’s too late,’ said Lucinda.
As law student, Duy Dinh Nhuyen said volunteering at the clinic taught him to be non-judgemental.
“People have their problems, and we accept people for who they are and deal with finding solutions,”
The students recommend their peers volunteer to join NJC’s clinic, as does Sam Levy supervising financial councillor and member of NJC’s onsite Carlton/Fitzroy Financial Counselling Service.
“It’s wonderful seeing them grow and become more understanding of people’s circumstances.
I hope that once they enter the workforce, they’ll know how to assist people with infringements themselves without needing to refer them on.”
Following a short break, the Fines Clinic will reopen with eight new RMIT students on 3 April.
For more information about our Fines Clinic, contact us on 9948 8777.