Amid increasingly complex and restrictive legislation, refugee advocates are turning to Australian courts for clarity and justice. It’s a slow, costly process, often with a slim chance of success, so when does it make sense? What goes into considering whether or not to run a case? How do lawyers choose which laws to fight, when and how? Is there a better way? In this panel, lawyers report from the frontlines about the success, stumbling blocks and sustainability of strategic litigation.
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About the speakers
Professor Matthew Albert signed the bar roll in 2010 and has a substantial refugee law practice, including having appeared in the High Court in ten appeals concerning refugee law. He was also junior counsel in the Malaysia Declaration case in the High Court. He is briefed exclusively by lawyers for visa applicants, and his bar work practice led to him being awarded both the Victorian Bar’s Susan Crennan Pro Bono Award and the International Commission of Jurists – Victoria John Gibson Award in 2019 for advocacy on behalf of asylum seekers. He completed his Masters in Forced Migration at the University of Oxford, and is a Senior Fellow at University of Melbourne Law School, where he has taught refugee law in the post-graduate law degree since 2017.
Scott Cosgriff is a Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre. His work combines strategic litigation, policy solutions and advocacy to protect the rights of people seeking asylum and address the harm caused by Australia’s refugee policies. He currently leads a coalition of law firms and barristers in High Court cases to prevent the Australian Government from sending hundreds of children, women and men to Nauru and Papua New Guinea, after they were brought to Australia for medical treatment. His previous role was at UNHCR in Canberra, where his work focused on immigration detention and asylum systems in Australia and New Zealand. He has also worked in UNHCR’s refugee resettlement operations in Latin America. He was a Senior Solicitor at the Refugee Advice & Casework Service, where he acted for people applying for refugee status. He has also represented clients in matters relating to visa cancellation, citizenship, detention and UN treaty body complaints. Earlier, he worked at the Japanese firm Anderson Mōri & Tomotsune and as a solicitor at King & Wood Mallesons. Scott holds a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne, and a Master of Laws from the London School of Economics, where he was awarded the Lauterpacht/Higgins Prize for Public International Law.
Arif Hussein is a Senior Solicitor at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) in Sydney where he works to protect the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum. He has spent over six years working with refugees and people seeking asylum both in Australia and in Australia’s Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Prior to joining RACS, he worked at the Human Rights Law Centre. There, his work included ensuring that refugee and people seeking asylum subject to Australia’s offshore processing regime received the medical treatment they urgently required, protecting the rights of people transferred for legal treatment to Australia, and working on the #KidsOffNauru Campaign. At RACS, he coordinates the centre’s judicial review program which provides critical legal representation to people who have had their refugee claims refused by the restrictive 'fast track' assessment and removal process.
Sanmati Verma is an Accredited Specialist in Immigration Law at Clothier Anderson Immigration Lawyers and has worked exclusively in the area since her admission to practice. She undertook her traineeship at Victoria Legal Aid before commencing with Clothier Anderson Immigration Lawyers in 2012. She maintains a broad legal practice, specialising in matters involving immigration detention, visa cancellation and complex jurisdictional issues. She has been the instructing solicitor in leading cases concerning the intersection of Australia’s non-refoulement obligations and the ‘character’ powers under the Migration Act, including BCR16 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and DMH16 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. In addition to her practice, Sanmati currently works as an in-house migration advisor with the United Workers Union. She is the former chair of the Law Institute of Victoria’s Refugee Law Reform Committee. She is currently the Deputy Chair of the Visa Cancellation Working Group – an Australia-wide network of professional and advocacy bodies, community legal centres, legal aid agencies and private law firms, which conducts legal education and law reform activities related to visa cancellation. She is completing a Master of Public and International Law at the University of Melbourne.
Panel Chair Dr. Sangeetha Pillai is a constitutional lawyer and a Senior Research Associate at the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW Sydney. She is an expert on Australian citizenship law, and the constitutional differences in the scope of government power that can be exercised over citizens and non-citizens. Her work on these issues has been published in leading Australian and international journals. She has also provided media commentary on various legal issues, particularly those raised by the recent introduction of broad citizenship stripping powers in Australia. She has appeared before and been cited by parliamentary committees on matters pertaining to Australian citizenship law. Dr Pillai is the Kaldor Centre's expert on the domestic public law framework that governs refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia. Her current research explores the boundaries of parliamentary and executive power over such persons in Australian case law.