How we view the law can have a big impact on our ability to access justice.
If we hold a poor view of the legal sector, we are less likely to see it as an avenue for help when we find ourselves experiencing legal problems.
There is a growing body of international research indicating that people from low socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to access legal help, even if they are aware they can access it for free.
This is often due to negative perceptions of the legal system.
Promoting access to justice through art
Portraits of Justice, an innovative program run by Barwon Community Legal Service (BCLS) in partnership with Geelong Illustrators, tackles young people’s perceptions of justice in a new and interesting way.
‘We noticed that young people had legal needs that weren’t being met and there were barriers to young people seeking legal help early,’ says Alexandria Jones, BCLS’ Community Legal Education & Development Worker.
‘Many young people are reluctant to seek legal help even though they know they have legal problems.’
Law Week provided the perfect opportunity to take a creative approach to addressing this issue.
Throughout a series of workshops, disadvantaged young people from Geelong meet with a range of local legal professionals who discuss their role in the justice system and how they can assist young people.
During each workshop the young people paint or draw a portrait of the legal professional while they discuss their role in the justice system. Each workshop uses local artists from the Geelong community to mentor and teach the young people different styles of art.
Portraits sitters included legal professionals from Victoria Legal Aid, Consumer Affairs Victoria, a Geelong Magistrate, and representatives from Victoria Police and the local Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee.
Attendance is voluntary – young people are encouraged to attend by local youth organisations and Geelong Illustrators promote the program through their social media channels.
‘This program allows us to foster creative engagement with the law through art, and also helps to create a friendly local face giving a more human side to the law,’ Ms Jones says.
So far, the response has been positive.
Ms Jones says the events have been well attended and that feedback is promising.
‘We’ve been able to see that young people are gaining a deeper understanding of the legal issues that affect them,’ she says.
In addition to learning legal content, young people also voice their opinions on the legal system through evaluation reports collected by BCLS, providing valuable information to community lawyers and advocates on how young people view justice.
’In thinking about how we can improve access to justice for young people, it is important to listen to young people’s views on what justice actually looks like,’ Ms Jones says.
‘Fairness, equity, human rights and self-empowerment were all strong themes discussed by participants in the workshops.’
The project will culminate in an exhibition of the portraits and the production of a local legal help booklet featuring referral information for legal services along with a selection of the Portraits of Justice.
A curated selection of the portraits produced through this program are currently on display at Geelong Regional Library and Heritage Centre. An awards night will be run on Thursday May 16 as part of Law Week.