A West Australian Aboriginal family have asked the High Court for permission to appeal against a decision that they pay legal costs to the Western Australian Government, following an unsuccessful stolen generations test case.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Senior Lawyer, Ruth Barson, said that the High Court application concerned important issues around access to justice.
“It’s vital that the threat of crushing legal costs do not prevent important public interest legal cases from being brought,” said Ms Barson.
Donald and Sylvia Collard, aged in their 80s, and seven of their children who were forcibly removed in the 1950s and 60s, sued the West Australian Government in 2013 for the damage caused as a result of their removal.
Despite losing their claim, the Supreme Court of Western Australia ruled that the family’s case was so “rare and exceptional” that they shouldn’t have to pay the Western Australian Government’s legal costs. The Western Australian Government however, successfully appealed the costs decision. This month, the Human Rights Law Centre and the WA Aboriginal Legal Service helped the Collard family to commence the process of appealing that decision in the High Court.
“Legal cases on issues of public importance, like redress for past policies of forced removal, are an important part of our legal system. While appropriate safeguards around litigation are vital, the ability to bring cases of public importance should not be restricted to the wealthy,” said Ms Barson.
“Losing such a significant case was devastating for the Collards, so being left with the Government’s hefty legal bill is just like adding salt to their wounds,” said Ms Barson.
CEO of the West Australian Aboriginal Legal Service, Dennis Eggington, said that the consequences of the stolen generations’ policies are devastating and ongoing. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s ‘Bringing Them Home Report’ found that at least one in ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were removed from their families during the period 1910-1970. Bringing the test case was critically important for the Western Australian Aboriginal community, particularly given a stolen generations test case was successful in South Australia.
“Families who had their children stolen, or people who were forcibly removed and grew up away from their families, suffered and continue to suffer tremendous grief. The Collards’ case was about shedding light on this grief, and achieving some sense of justice,” said Mr Eggington.
“Aboriginal people should have access to justice – particularly on such important public interest matters. Aboriginal people bringing important public interest legal cases shouldn’t face the threat of enormous legal costs being awarded against them,” said Mr Eggington.
The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia are representing the Collard family, along with barristers Ron Merkel QC and Dr Ben Gauntlett. The Human Rights Law Centre and King & Wood Mallesons are assisting with the application. The legal team is acting pro bono.
Later this year, the High Court will decide whether to grant the Collards permission to appeal.
For media inquiries:
A team of highly experienced and respected Community members from throughout WA have formed the newly elected Executive Committee of the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA).
Consisting of eight members, the Committee held their inaugural meeting in Perth this week to discuss the complex issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within the justice system and strategies for moving forward.
ALSWA CEO Dennis Eggington said the meeting was extremely productive and significant because it marked the Committee moving from sixteen members to eight. “This reduction marks our commitment to even better governance processes and because it is more cost effective, we will have more, much needed resources for our frontline services” said Mr. Eggington.
The Executive Committee will meet quarterly and their expertise and input will ensure that the legal needs of Community members are addressed statewide.
“Our Committee play a major role in guiding our operational procedures, organisational functions and policy direction, and because they each have been voted in by their local Community members, we can be assured that they will provide a strong voice for our people. We are working in challenging times, but it is extremely reassuring to work alongside such dedicated and committed people who share ALSWA’s vision for a strong future in continuing to play a vital and unique role in this state’s justice system” said Mr. Eggington.