Here's how commercial lawyers and social justice can work together in Hong Kong
This week’s post is brought to you by Jacqueline Leahey, Pro Bono Programme Manager at Hong Kong-based human rights organisation, Justice Centre Hong Kong.
Jacqueline is an Australian qualified lawyer, with a background in litigation, refugees, and nuclear disarmament. She has worked for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, UNRWA, IAEA and CTBTO. She lives in Hong Kong with her husband and two young children, and is a Dispute Resolution Lawyer at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
1. Jacqueline, there's been quite a buzz about Justice Centre Hong Kong, what is it?
Justice Centre Hong Kong is a non-profit human rights organisation working to protect the rights of Hong Kong’s most vulnerable forced migrants – refugees, other people seeking protection, and survivors of modern slavery.
A non-profit organisation launched in 2014, Justice Centre Hong Kong was formerly Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre, the first NGO to provide free legal assistance to refugees in Hong Kong which over the course of seven years helped over 2,000 refugee women, men and children on the road to a new life.
We are a team of around 20 staff and volunteers, including human rights lawyers, psychologists and social workers, as well as advocacy and communications specialists. Volunteers play a critical role in our work, many of whom are Hong Kong locals or are fluent in languages spoken by refugees such as French and Arabic.
2. How many refugees are there in Hong Kong, and why do they come here?
There are currently around 10,000 people seeking protection here, about 0.1% of the total population. We assist refugees who come from conflict-affected countries that you often hear of in the news, such as Somalia and Eritrea, Central African Republic, Egypt and Yemen, Iran and Pakistan.
"Refugees come to Hong Kong because they are desperately in need of protection. As a world city, Hong Kong offers them safety."
They have fled from human rights abuses, persecution and war. Many are survivors of torture, sexual and gender-based violence. Many are educated, and were lawyers, teachers, journalists and engineers in their countries of origin. Some have been in Hong Kong for years while their case for protection is processed.
Refugees come to Hong Kong because they are desperately in need of protection. As a world city, Hong Kong offers them safety. The government has a screening system to establish if they have a genuine risk of harm in their country or origin as authorities must not return them to a place where they fear for their lives (obligation of “non-refoulement”).
3. How does Justice Centre Hong Kong help refugees?
We give refugees access to justice by providing free and independent legal information to all people seeking protection in Hong Kong.
We provide intensive one-to-one legal and psychological support to the most vulnerable refugees, supporting them to tell their stories in a coherent and chronological manner, to give them the best possible chance of a positive decision on their case for protection.
Our services for refugees are underpinned by our advocacy to push for systemic changes in laws, policies and society. We lobby policy-makers to improve the situation of refugees in Hong Kong and to protect those at risk of human trafficking, and we work to inform the community about these issues. We also equip and empower refugees with the skills, tools and the platform to be their own agents of change and spokespeople for their communities.
4. How does Justice Centre manage to operate in a trade and finance international city like Hong Kong?
Justice Centre operates in a unique context; Hong Kong is a world city and a finance hub. It feels like a safe place, which is of primary concern to refugees. At the same time, it is one of the only wealthy jurisdictions in the world to not be bound to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, and does not have any comprehensive legislation that expressly prohibits human trafficking in all its forms.
While Justice Centre receives no government funding, we have been able to leverage the fact that many multinational corporations are based in Hong Kong and are passionate about making a difference in the not-for-profit sector through their corporate social responsibility.
We have spearheaded an innovative pro bono model which sees leading international law firms and banks provide financial assistance and donate hours to assist with legal research and support. Without the support of these pro bono lawyers, we would not be able to reach so many of the most vulnerable refugees who require intensive legal assistance.
5. Do you work with other organisations?
In addition to the law firms, banks and corporate sector, Justice Centre collaborates with a number of different organisations in Hong Kong.
Firstly, we work closely with other NGOs assisting refugees in Hong Kong, to ensure that our services are complementary so that we can best meet refugees’ needs holistically. We share information and best practices to ensure that refugees are referred for the services they need in a timely manner.
"...many multinational corporations...are passionate about making a difference in the not-for-profit sector through their corporate social responsibility."
We also have good relationships with organisations such as the Equal Opportunities Commission, the diplomatic community and various members of the Legislative Council, who have met with refugees from our refugee advocacy programme (Voices for Protection).
Finally, we run a Clinical Legal Education Programme in partnership with universities in Hong Kong to give law students insight into the workings of human rights law in a hands-on environment to build up the next generation of human rights lawyers in Hong Kong.
6. Does Justice Centre need further support?
We have many things we want to do as an organisation to make a long-lasting impact, but to do that we need resourcing. We look to develop lasting relationships in the corporate sector and with foundations with a particular interest in our legal and psychological services or our advocacy traineeship and community empowerment programme for refugees, or our research project on the prevalence and patterns of human trafficking in Hong Kong. We also have our upcoming Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize and other events for which we seek cash or in-kind sponsorship.
7. Can any lawyer come to offer their services, pro bono?
We have a number of full-time volunteers on our team who are lawyers that dedicate their time and skills at our centre. For lawyers who work full-time and wish to volunteer with us on an ad hoc basis, they may approach us with their company about entering a pro bono partnership with Justice Centre.
Given the extensive case management time required, we only work with lawyers from our pro bono partner organisations (including law firms and banks). Unfortunately, we are not in a position to work with lawyers in their individual capacity for the legal casework, but there are other ways in which they can get involved in our work.
8. I’m not a lawyer, or an employee of the law firms or companies who work with Justice Centre, but I’d like to help in some way. What other ways can non-corporate members get involved in your work?
It’s always encouraging to hear from people who are passionate about protecting human rights, and who want to join us in making a difference.
We don’t just need lawyers to assist with our work; we often announce calls for part-time or full-time volunteer opportunities. And we are excited to announce a new initiative we have just launched called the Justice Centre Advocates Network which is designed for people who wish to support our work in their free time to help with our campaigning, activism, research, translation and events. If you’re interested, the deadline for applications is September 6.
It’s also possible to fundraise individually, get involved in our campaign actions, or even just sign up to receive our newsletter or follow us on social media.