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Aboriginal Legal Service WA wins Law category at Australian Human Rights Commission Awards

Giovanni Torre -

The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia has been honoured at the 2023 Australian Human Rights Commission Awards, winning the Law Award.

ALS WA chief executive Wayne Nannup told National Indigenous Times on Friday evening that the Service was working hard to provide a voice for young people detained.

"We are also very disappointed with what happened to young Master Dodd. His death was preventable," he said.

"This Award is about young people who don't have a voice, we have been working for them and we will continue to do that.

"We are extremely thankful for the bravery of the young people who put their stories forward in the action we brought to the Supreme Court and we thank them very much."

In the lead up to the Awards, Mr Nannup said the ALS WA does not undertake this work "for the accolades, we strive for justice for our most marginalised people so that we can make a difference in the lives of First Nations Peoples".

"Unless you work in this, or other social justice fields, it's difficult to comprehend just how tough people are doing it," he said.

ALS WA has campaigned tirelessly to address the ongoing crisis and appalling conditions in Western Australia's notorious youth justice system, in which Indigenous children are significantly over-represented.

ALS WA lawyers successfully challenged the use of prolonged solitary confinement on a young Indigenous detainee at Banksia Hill, with Justice Paul Tottle ruling last August that the lock-downs were unlawful.

The Service then took on the system's use of lock-downs more broadly, ultimately having the practice found unlawful - again - in July this year.

In May, ALS WA brought the testimony of almost 60 current and former youth detainees in WA to light, working with Greens MP Brad Pettitt to table 57 letters of complaint in the state's parliament, detailing shocking abuse allegations.

Mr Nannup told National Indigenous Times that ALS WA embraces "a human rights approach in all that we do, whether that's supporting and representing our people within the justice system, advocating for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised, speaking out at the Disability Royal Commission, or representing young people who are currently held in Banksia Hill or Unit 18 of the maximum-security Casuarina Prison".

The winners of the AHRC Awards were announced during the Awards Ceremony at UTS Great Hall in Sydney on Friday, December 8.

The 21 finalists overall were chosen from a pool of more than 260 nominations spanning five categories, which include the esteemed Australian Human Rights Medal, a tradition upheld since the award's establishment in 1987.

This occasion was held two days before International Human Rights Day on December 10.

Finalists - Law Award (presented by the AHRC and LexisNexis Australia)

Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (WA): for over 50 years of service to First Nations people and communities in WA by providing legal expertise, community empowerment, advocacy for systemic change, and a culturally sensitive approach. ALSWA's recent work in relation to youth justice has been particularly impactful.

Economic Justice Australia (National): for defending the social security rights of people across Australia for more than 30 years – including in relation to the recent Robodebt scandal – and advocating for a more effective, equitable and accessible social security system for Australia.

David Barnden (NSW): for leading the approach of his firm Equity Generation Lawyers to combatting climate change through innovative, first-of-their-kind legal actions which develop Australia's common law and create novel paths for addressing climate-related risks and damage.

Human Rights for All (NSW): for outstanding work in relation to obtaining liberty for asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons held in onshore Australian detention – especially those from marginalised communities – by promoting and protecting human rights through legal action, advocacy and education.

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