Law student honoured for pro bono service

Thomas More Law School graduate Venette Choi has been honoured for her unflagging commitment to helping asylum seekers facing lengthy and complex court battles.

Ms Choi was awarded the Rebecca Allen Prize for Commitment to Legal Assistance for Refugees and Asylum Seekers at a dinner at North Sydney’s Rag and Famish Hotel to recognise contributors to ACU’s Refugee Law Project (RLP).

“I was a little bit surprised because the whole team has worked very hard on the project,” Ms Choi said of the prize, which was funded by the ACU Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award. “This is a huge honour.”

The project is the Thomas More Law School’s flagship pro bono program designed to help asylum seekers trying to navigate their way through the federal court system. The project operates with the support of the Chief Judge of the Federal Court and a team of barristers.

Thomas More Law School undergraduates are required to perform two units, or 160 hours, of pro bono legal service, and many choose to fulfil that commitment by assisting refugees through the RLP.  Since the project began, students have played a part in three major court wins for asylum seekers facing deportation.

Ms Choi spent more than 500 hours at court, meeting asylum seeker clients, assisting barristers and preparing court documents. She said it was immensely satisfying to help asylum seekers who have grown fearful of legal professionals and are often confused by the complex appeals process.

“Some of them are scared and hesitant. They’ve trusted legal people in the past and feel like they’ve not received much help,” she said.

“It feels very satisfying to help them just a little bit.”

Ms Choi graduated with a Bachelor of Laws this year and is working towards her Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP).  She intends to continue her work with the project next year after she is admitted to practise as a lawyer.

Associate Professor Catherine Renshaw commended Ms Choi and the team for their tireless work on such an important project.

“Venette and the entire project team have gone above and beyond. Through their work on the project they have embodied responsibility, teamwork, empathy and accountability,” she said.

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