Pro bono lawyer a champion for “nervous, scared and confronted” young people
“Nervous, scared and confronted” is how pro bono partner Matt Ward described Marrickville Legal Centre client Elei* who was called before the court for a matter she was charged with while enduring drug-induced mania.
Matt Ward is a pro bono partner broadening reach for Marrickville Legal Centre’s state-wide Youth Legal Service in the Illawarra region.
A practising lawyer since 2012 and accredited specialist in criminal law since 2017, Matt is a partner at Morrisons – a private law firm in the region that specialises in crime.
Matt recently supported Youth Legal Service client Elei at Wollongong court. Elei is a young person with complex mental health. Elei felt anxious and confronted with the formal proceedings she was facing for the minor criminal charge.
Many young people encounter alcohol and drug use as they transition from adolescence into adulthood. When young people slip – from use to abuse – this is often when they need the most support. Research shows that institutionalising a young person who offends for the first time will only further increase their likelihood of reoffending.
Young people experiencing issues around mental health and drug or alcohol abuse require integrated, holistic assistance particularly when faced with legal issues. Marrickville Legal Centre offers assistance across legal and non-legal support services to give young people the best chance forward into adulthood.
Due to complex mental health, Elei would have struggled to represent herself. With Matt’s assistance, Elei felt assisted and supported. Thanks to this local advocacy, Elei avoided a conviction.
The negative implications of criminal convictions may snowball into larger, ongoing issues for young people later in life.
Mission Australia’s recent survey of 28,000 young people reported that almost double the proportion of young people surrounded by problematic alcohol or drug use reported feeling sad/very sad with their life as a whole (15.5 per cent) compared to those who were not (7.9 per cent).
Court representation provided by pro bono lawyers like Matt is critical for young, vulnerable people at risk of poor mental health on two levels.
First, to be walked through each step as it happening helped Elei to better understand and approach her situation. Secondly, it was so valuable to have someone represent her and express her defence in a way she couldn’t herself.
Thank you Matt for achieving a great outcome for a bright young person.
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual
If you are interested to support Marrickville Legal Centre’s pro bono program to fight for better and fairer outcomes for vulnerable clients, please reach out to our Pro Bono Coordinator Lisa Woodgate firstname.lastname@example.org