Legal roles in community law frequently arise and provide lawyers with an opportunity to engage with local communities in a way that can provide extraordinary work satisfaction for lawyers seeking to make a difference with their work.
A case in point was highlighted with a recent LawTalk profile of Canterbury Community Law leader Jamie-Lee Tuuta, an Australian-born lawyer with a Scottish-Maori background.
Leading the Canterbury Community Law Kaupapa Maori legal team she has been heavily involved
in a recent ‘first’, being the preparation of a report under section 27 of the Sentencing Act for Maori offender Jayden Shane Alexander who killed his brother with a ‘boning knife’ killing in 2016.
Justice Nick Davidson sentenced Alexander to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 11 years, but relied on the report prepared by Ms Tuuta which focused on the cultural and community background of the offender and how it related to the offending itself.
Ms Tuuta says such reports are ‘extremely under utilised’ and represents some of the interesting and challenging work available with community law groups.
A full time solicitor she has two Maori law students who work as law clerks, as well as using the support of the Maori legal team.
“One of the big drivers for me coming to Community Law was to support them establish a Māori legal team and help with their relationships with mana whenua, set up relationships with Whanau Ora and develop more of a holistic approach to their legal stuff,” she told LawTalk.
The Community Law organisation priovides free legal advice from groups throughout New Zealand using full time lawyers like Jamie-Lee Tuuta as well as up to 1200 volunteer lawyers who provide advice across a range of areas and from large legal firms and small.
Community Law is funded by the Ministry of Justice. The Community Law Canterbury’s area extends from Hurunui to Waimate and the West Coast. The range of work continues to expand, as does its geographic ‘spread’, including recently a new team set up by Community Law to assist with legal matters arising out of the Kaikoura earthquakes.
The work ranges across everything from refugee law and Maori land law to bankruptcy and domestic legal issues.
Variety is as much a cornerstone of the work as contribution to legal welfare for the general population is.
As Jamie-Lee Tuuta says, “we get to help a wide range of people I would not see in private practice. The types of cases are quite complex but we can put a bit more time into them and work with community organisations for more of a holistic outcome.”