Health justice partnerships help navigate ‘minefield’ to build trust

Curran: Minefield for lawyers

Marginalised groups who associate lawyers with the criminal law have greater trust if contact is made in the context of a health justice partnership (HJP), research has found.

HJPs originated in Australia and the findings of two academics at Nottingham Law School came from a project offering legal support for social and emotional well-being in an Aboriginal community in southern Australia.

Dr Liz Curran, an associate law professor there, interviewed Aboriginal people, doctors, lawyers and others in the Bagaraybang bagaraybang mayinygalang partnership earlier this year.

She found: “There is an appetite among [the] community to learn more about areas of law they did not know can help them and to utilise correct information in their community to prevent inappropriate action by them or by authorities seeking to exploit them.”

One problem the research identified was that the legal system was “driven by court dates and timelines and timeframes”, which caused cultural pressures and even raised mental health issues.

These amounted to a ”minefield” for lawyers trying to empower people who had suffered prolonged discrimination and the effects of colonisation.

On the one hand was the necessity for establishing and building trust, but at the same time there existed the knowledge of “how easily this trust can be lost once gained”.

The report, co-authored by researcher Dr Nisan Alici, said lawyers would have to work hard to overcome concerns within the community that in exercising their rights, they risked reprisals against them from the authorities.

The people often saw law as about criminal law or child removal rather than in terms of what it might do for them in enforcing their rights when they were breached.

Not only would lawyers have to stimulate legal awareness, confidence and advocacy skills among the community but also among its ‘trusted intermediaries’, namely professional and non-legal support staff.

Necessary skills for lawyers were the ability to show respect, being approachable and using understandable language. These, combined with involving the community in decision-making, were essential to building trusted relationships.

The report recommended a campaign to communicate that law was “an important tool for making authorities accountable, realising rights, protecting people from abuse of power or ineptitude”.

Dr Curran said: “Around the world, marginalised communities are still significantly impacted in terms of their life outcomes, and many see the law as something to distrust, and as a hinderance, rather than a help.

“The participants in this study expressed distrust in all formal institutional structures and service delivery, and this distrust will be present in all communities who face discrimination.

“The expansion of [HJPs] across the globe is vital in changing this perception and empowering people with knowledge. However, we can see from this research that the lawyers must truly understand the community they’re working with, be open and transparent, and involve their clients in their practice and decision making.”

    Readers Comments

  • Denis Joseph Bukenya says:

    This article is very interesting and something that I have related with proficiently as a lawyer. Litigation can be used as a tool of advocacy but without community participation this all will be lost for efforts.

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