In mid November I arrived at the NAAJA offices on Smith Street, Darwin as part of the Aurora Internship Program. I was taken up to the criminal law floor, quickly learning that the different teams of NAAJA were organizationally and physically separated. My supervisor raced me around the office. I met a blur of friendly faces, failing to properly remember anyone’s names. I was given a desk and began to flick through the NAAJA intern handbook.
Day two I went down with the duty lawyers to the Local Court. At the NAAJA court office there was a long list of clients that needed to be seen, both in custody and ‘walk ins’. I shadowed the lawyers as they met with each client; they managed to efficiently work through the list while also bringing care and sensitivity to each case. Having almost no prior legal experience, I had no conception of the number of cases that are dealt with each day.
At NAAJA you get thrown in the deep end and learn quickly what is expected. I gained the confidence to speak to the different lawyers, ask them if they would like assistance with anything. I was fortunate to be given an interesting mix of work. Some of my time was spent transcribing ‘electronic recordings of interviews’ (EROIs), which is a classic task given to interns at the office. I was glad I could help with this as I knew how much time that saved the lawyers. I was able to do some work for the youth lawyer team, looking at the impact of harsh conditions in custody in sentencing outcomes. This was in relation to the notorious Don Dale Detention Centre. I did some work for a Supreme Court Appeal, looking at a technical legal issue in wording of legislation. I ran the weekly prison clinic, along with another intern, where we would meet with clients and update them on their matters or get instructions and forms filled out. I spent a number of days at court and was fortunate to do two small appearances. It was good to have a mix of work at the office as well as going down to court.
After the long days at the office, I was fortunate to be able to go back to a little Air BnB I shared with a friend. We would refresh at the Nightcliff pool while watching the sunset. We were also able to go see some of Kakadu and Litchfield, despite being a bit restricted by the wet season, which was beautiful.
I learnt so much in those five weeks. On top of the practical experience I gained, being able to properly research, understand how the court functions, I gained an appreciation of the values and dedication the lawyers put into their work. One day, I walked into the courtroom with the NAAJA lawyer I was accompanying. At the bench, the lawyer for the prosecution whispered to our lawyer, “you have no chance.” The NAAJA lawyer brushed it off and then went on to make lengthy submissions. I truly found it inspiring how much work the lawyers would put into every one of their cases, despite the massive workload. The lawyers do not give up on their clients and put in every effort to fight for the best result.
Further, I really saw the human side to the law. The lawyers would create a connection to the clients and I was surprised by how, in most cases, the clients would quickly open up to the lawyers. In the youth justice sector, this was even further exemplified. I went to see one case in the youth court, of a client that had been represented by NAAJA for a few years. It was amazing to see how many people from NAAJA came to this appearance - they really cared about the outcome for the client. Present were: his lawyer, his youth worker, his past lawyer and two people from the NAAJA Throughcare program.
My internship at NAAJA also provided insight into issues facing Indigenous communities and the complicated relationship between Indigenous culture and values and colonisation and the common law system. NAAJA does its best to try navigate these difficult issues in a way that is most respectful for the clients.
I feel so grateful that I was able to intern at NAAJA as part of the Aurora Internship Program. Everyone at NAAJA was very welcoming and grateful for the work I did. It has cemented my desire to work in some social justice area after finishing my degree. I would encourage all students interested in the Indigenous sector to apply for an Aurora Internship; it is a fantastic pathway into the area.