Just Another Day In The Office
Like me, you’ve probably been in a tense meeting with your client when there’s a deadline looming and your client is just being plain difficult. Interrupting. Yelling. Screaming. Attention seeking.
“My client’s being such a baby!” goes through my mind, non-stop.
Well, over the last 18 months, I’ve learnt there is only one thing you can do in a situation like this. Take them out of the meeting room and give them some toys to play with! Luckily, there is a whole library of them in the reception. And quite frankly, if you’re going to behave like a toddler, we’ll treat you like one. At least this way, mummy can receive the important legal advice without interruption.
Of course, Ah Ming* is only 3 years old and it is way past his normal bedtime, so it’s probably to be expected. But while Ah Ming is too young to understand what’s happening this evening, his mother is receiving some important legal advice that could impact his future in unforeseen ways. Ms Chan is an unmarried single mother, and has been charged with a low level criminal offence. She is likely to receive a short custodial sentence at her sentencing hearing next week. We have advised her that in those circumstances, she will be taken straight into custody and there will be no opportunity to make arrangements for Ah Ming on the day. Ms Chan is also being pressured by the family of Ah Ming’s father to hand Ah Ming over to them for care and has been given some papers to sign. In this situation, Ms Chan was unsure what to do, she wants to do the right thing by Ah Ming but is unaware that the papers she has been given to sign would hand over custody of Ah Ming to them – permanently – even though her jail time is likely to be quite short. There were, fortunately, other options for her and her son.
Until she received this free legal assistance that evening, given with the help of our volunteer lawyers in a language and a way that she could understand, Ms Chan was understandably distressed and uncertain of what she could do and what her rights were. And the consequences for Ah Ming could have been life altering in a devastating way. This is, at its heart, what our mission and our legal clinic is all about.
Providing Access to Justice in Our Community
In May 2017, we launched our pilot legal clinic in partnership with SoCO to provide free legal advice to the poorest and most marginalised in our community, like Ms Chan and her son, because we are acutely aware of the link between legal assistance and the alleviation of poverty and inequality of opportunity in society. Since then our legal clinic has been growing steadily and we have helped over 65 people with numerous legal matters, totaling over 200 hours of legal work, on issues involving sham marriages, children’s custody, criminal appeals, immigration, refugee status, medical negligence, tenancy, property rights, sentencing, traffic accidents, deaths in custody, coronial inquests, guardianship orders, wills and probate… and have gone through boxes of tissues in doing so.
Looking back, I think it’s incredible that we were able to help anyone given we started with nothing. No premises, no funds, no government assistance, not even any stationery. But after 18 months of blood, sweat and tears operating as the first generalist community legal clinic in Hong Kong, we are ready to take the next step, and that’s where you come in!
We know that for every Ms Chan we help at the clinic, there are many, many, others like her that we can’t help. Or that the assistance we give is limited, and on occasions, it can feel as if it’s a band-aid solution because of our limited resources. In a wealthy city like Hong Kong, I know we can do better. That’s why this appeal is so important. It is the first step to putting this little clinic on the road to a better, and more sustainable future.
Our 500×500 Campaign: Give Your Share, Show You Care
We see plenty of people in need at the clinic, who could barely afford housing and food, let alone lawyer’s fees to sort out their legal issues. To date, our clinic has relied solely on volunteers and the SoCO staff working unpaid overtime to help them get assistance. This has been wonderful, but has its limits – not least that it unfairly burdens everyone.
Having an employed case manager and proper resourcing will be a big change for the clinic and it will enable us to assist more people like Ms Chan and young Ah Ming. So our fundraising target is simple: get 500 people (at least) to donate (at least) $500. This is the minimum estimated amount we require for at least one case manager and related costs for a trial period of 6 to 12 months. Though, we would be very happy if this target is exceeded as that will enable us to hire more help!
We believe that the power of individuals acting in small ways can, collectively, create a massive legacy for society, and fast! So please join us at the #500Club, so that we can make a lasting positive impact on social justice and the rule of law in Hong Kong. You can make a donation using the buttons below or at the Simplygiving website, then share your donation on social media as well to spread the news.
We are running this campaign through the Simply Giving website, which is a dedicated fundraising website for non-profit organisations and shows the progress of our campaign. You can make the donation through their payment gateway, and all donors will also be listed by name there. And do remember to share news of your contribution on all social media and messaging platforms to get the word out. #500forJustice #500Club
(*The names and certain non-material facts in this story have been anonymized, to protect the identity of those involved).
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