Human rights are essential for ensuring access to vital services, as well as meaningful public participation for everyone. A focus on human rights also maintains checks and balances on those in power.
There is increasing demand for practitioners who specialise in different areas of human rights and disability law – in the not-for-profit sector and in public and private-sector bodies. A number of firms have established dedicated pro bono departments providing legal support on human-rights and environmental issues.
For example, A&L Goodbody has partnered with multiple Irish charities, including the Irish Refugee Council, Focus Ireland and Mercy Law Resource Centre, Spirasi, and the Public Interest Law Alliance to provide thousands of hours in pro bono support.
The firm has recently introduced a new trainee rotation in its pro bono practice, to allow trainees to work closely with charities and not-for-profit organisations, and to help develop vital skills in client care, legal research, drafting and advocacy.
In recognising the high demand for these skills, the Law Society’s new ‘fused’ PPC (from 6 September) will provide students with the opportunity to take elective modules in human rights law and disability law. The modules will provide students with essential knowledge in both areas, and will set the groundwork for those interested in pursuing a career in either field.
Human-rights law encomp-asses a vast array of different sectors, yet there is a common perception that it is entirely linked, and only invoked through, fundamental rights outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights or international human-rights treaties.
This tends to lead to the common misconception that it’s not viable to pursue a successful career in human-rights law in Ireland. This has not been borne out by the experience of human-rights lawyers in Ireland: many have enjoyed successful careers working in private law firms, charitable organisations, as in-house counsel or within the public sector.
The Society’s Human Rights and Equality Committee was established in November 2004 to raise awareness among the public and legal profession of access-to-justice and human-rights issues in Ireland.
The committee comprises solicitors working in many practice areas, ranging from company law, environmental law, minority rights, criminal law, healthcare, housing and planning, immigration, family, and disability law.
The committee is extremely active and regularly makes submissions to Government on important issues, including the review of the Equality Acts, the National Action Plan Against Racism for Ireland, and the General Scheme of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill.
Members have appeared before different Oireachtas committees to provide evidence on a range of different topics related to their areas of expertise, such as legal aid for victims of sexual violence under the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) (Amendment) Bill 2018 and concerns regarding the White Paper on Direct Provision.
Human-rights violations are constantly occurring throughout the State – both by private individuals and State bodies – whether in relation to housing and homelessness, gender and sexual-based violence, discrimination in employment, denial of rights for persons with disabilities, and the continuation of direct provision.
Although justice through the legal system is not a silver bullet to remedy all social issues, it is certainly a starting point to help solidify protections and amplify the voices of those who may otherwise be unheard.
A robust and equitable justice system sends out a stark warning that those responsible for the denial of fundamental human rights of others will be held responsible. Human-rights lawyers play an important and exciting role in highlighting such issues, and may be seen as the guardians of the common good.
The Human Rights and Equality Committee encourages law students and trainees to consider a career in human rights, and reminds them of lawyers’ duties to uphold the rule of law and protect access to justice for all persons.
You can find out more about the Human Rights and Equality Committee in the ‘Representation’ section of the Law Society’s website.
MEET THE LAWYERS!
Members of the Human Rights and Equality Committee enjoy successful careers in human-rights law. We meet three of them:
Since qualifying as a solicitor, Susan has been actively involved in advocating for disability rights and the rights of Travellers in Ireland. She is responsible for the establishment and operation of the Legal Aid Board’s Mincéir/Traveller Legal Support Service, which has been fully operational since early 2022.
In addition to her work with the Legal Aid Board, Susan volunteers on a number of advisory groups, committees, and networks, working on issues of disability and Traveller rights. She is currently chair of the Disability Rights Lawyers Network.
Having qualified as a solicitor in 2017, Stephen was recently appointed a partner at KOD Lyons Solicitors. He heads up their immigration and public-interest law team.
He has been involved in landmark strategic human-rights challenges against various State departments – primarily concerning immigration and asylum law, national security law, disability and education law, equality law, capacity law, social-welfare law, and challenges to State commission of investigations, and decisions concerning survivors of industrial and State-sponsored abuse.
These cases have been, or are currently before, the Irish superior courts, the CJEU, and the European Court of Human Rights.
Gary was principal solicitor and CEO of a national disability organisation prior to becoming managing solicitor of Ballymun Community Law Centre, where some 70% of his clients are disabled people.
He has acted for people with disabilities and others in all courts and various quasi-judicial forums in social-welfare appeals, discrimination cases, healthcare matters, employment, housing, and many other areas. Gary has expertise in mental-health law and capacity law, and has chaired Mental Health Tribunals since 2006.
He is a member of the Council of the Law Society and is chair of the Law Society’s Human Rights and Equality Committee. He is a former chair of the Disability Federation of Ireland, has given evidence to Oireachtas committees, and is a former member of the Government Taskforce on Personalised Budgets for People with Disabilities and of the National Disability Strategy Implementation Group.
He says that it is hugely rewarding to be able to use the law to vindicate the rights of people to ensure that they have access to basic needs. He would encourage trainee solicitors to consider a career in human-rights law, adding that the new PPC modules in disability law and human-rights law represent a fantastic opportunity for trainee solicitors.
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