This is a reminder of our purpose and commitment to holistic justice, illustrating the real impact of a trusted adviser for people in their time of need. It also illustrates that all clients are entitled to the same careful attention to detail, and the significant positive impact that attention can have for a client.
Salvos Legal Humanitarian met Dawit when he attended our Sunshine Advice Bureau in Melbourne. He was referred by his case worker at a Salvation Army outreach service which supports transitioning persons at risk due to their precarious accommodation, to stable and reliable accommodation.
Dawit is originally a refugee from Africa and resettled in Australia. In his childhood he had first survived war (carrying the scar of a bullet wound from that time) and then the fraught existence of life in a refugee camp with very little education or familial support. He and his family eventually settled in Australia.
Dawit was financially supporting five children with his main income from driving a taxi. When we first saw Dawit, he was overwhelmed and anxious, struggling to understand a raft of charges filed against him by the industry regulator and listed for summary trial in a matter of months. In addition, his driver accreditation had been suspended as a result of the charges. While Dawit had managed to communicate to the court during earlier hearings that he disagreed with the basis of the charges, he was unprepared for a contested hearing. The prospects for successfully representing himself were poor – he was unaware of court procedures, the gravity of the charges, and the possible penalties he faced.
Salvos Legal Humanitarian decided to assist Dawit with a view to reviewing the charges and brief of evidence and advising him of any possible defences.
The charges were based on a passenger’s complaint regarding Dawit’s driving one evening over 18 months earlier. Despite the passage of time, Dawit remembered the passenger and the route he drove with clarity. That journey had left him distraught – crying and shaking. During the trip he had been accused of being drunk, of not able to speak English, and on his account had been subjected to other inappropriate comments seemingly intended to intimidate. Dawit’s version of the journey conflicted with the version put forward by the sole witness – the passenger who complained – relied upon by the prosecution.
We carefully scrutinised the allegations and evidence, conferring with road maps, online mapping applications and online fare estimators to test the accuracy of the passenger’s allegations. By tracking online the journey as alleged by the passenger we identified numerous inaccuracies and discrepancies in his account. We were also able to demonstrate the accuracy of Dawit’s account. These included: the passenger alleged Dawit veered into and travelled in a bike lane in a section of roadway where we could show there was no bike lane; the passenger alleged Dawit refused to turn right at an intersection where we could show that right turns were banned. The passenger alleged the fare claimed was excessive, when the regulator’s own online fare estimator indicated a likely fare higher than the fare that was actually charged.
Based on these, and many other examples, it was our view that a number of the charges were not supported by objective evidence, and other charges had no application to the facts and circumstances of the case.
Detailed written submissions supported by evidence were supplied to the prosecution, highlighting the discrepancies and inaccuracies in the evidence and clearly communicating Dawit’s account of events.
These submissions were accepted without qualification and all the charges were withdrawn, without even the need for an appearance at court. As a result of the time spent in listening to his story and paying attention to the detail, a significant difference was made in Dawit’s life. Any conviction in relation to driving a taxi would have jeopardised his future employment.
Dawit has sincerely thanked us for our assistance and is able to focus on pursuing a life of stability and good health. We see that just results are best promoted when social support and legal advocacy combine.