Pro bono centre defends work from minister’s harsh remarks

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The Australian Pro Bono Centre has joined other legal groups in their criticism of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s remarks about law firms acting “un-Australian” by representing asylum seekers pro bono.

In a radio interview last week, the minister said asylum seekers are able to get legal representation through pro bono work provided by the country’s law firms.

When asked by 2GB presenter Alan Jones whether lawyers representing these people are showing “un-Australian behaviour,” Dutton said, “Of course it is.”

“It’s gone on for too long and I think people believe in a fair go, but this is ripping the system off. And you’re right. These lawyers have been playing the game with these people who are willing participants. We are a generous nation but we are not going to be taken for a ride,” Dutton said.

In a statement released Wednesday, the centre rejected Dutton’s remarks, and said pro bono work affirms the highest tradition of the legal profession.

According to the group’s figures, major law firms undertook a total of over 370,000 hours of pro bono legal work last financial year, averaging 35 hours per lawyer. “This is without charge to the public or the taxpayer. The federal government has actively supported this voluntary effort for many years and formally encourages major law firms to undertake pro bono work through its legal purchasing agreements.”

The centre added that major corporations are also following this lead, as they expect their panel panel law firms to show commitment to pro bono.

“Defending human rights and the rule of law is a key part of the pro bono work undertaken by these firms. This context makes Minister Dutton’s comment… all the more regrettable,” the centre added.

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