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Alternative Approaches to Advocating on Behalf of Vulnerable Clients: Through the Lens of Addiction, Sexual Assault and Asylum

Alternative Approaches to Advocating on Behalf of Vulnerable Clients: Through the Lens of Addiction, Sexual Assault and Asylum (Program)

Kate Seear, Monash University (Australia) (Moderator); Neil Graffin, The Open University Law School (UK); and Francine Ryan, The Open University (UK)

Alternative Approaches to Advocating on Behalf of Vulnerable Clients: Through the Lens of Addiction, Sexual Assault and Asylum

First, we assess the ethical issue of how retelling asylum stories can affect legal practitioners and asylum seekers. We will discuss how the telling of narratives concerning, for example, persecution, torture, ill-treatment or sexual violence can have the effect of re-traumatizing asylum seekers, but also causing psychological harm to listeners.

We will also consider how ‘robust’ advocacy in courts can cause harm to individuals in cases of sexual violence. We will argue that the role of advocate training should be to ensure that advocacy methods are both effective and ethical. It is proposed that the lack of compulsory specialized training in sexual assault cases is contributing to inappropriate and potentially unethical advocacy methods.

Lastly, we consider how client representation involves the process by which lawyers make strategic decisions about how to portray clients in their work. Lawyers frequently make decisions, for example, about how to 'construct' a client's past conduct and life history. In the process, lawyers often focus on narrow legal questions, such as whether particular framings are legally possible, advantageous or disadvantageous. This is considered through an examination of the labeling of clients who use drugs as drug 'addicts'.


Neil Graffin: Interviewing Asylum Seekers: Ethical Issues for Legal Practitioners and Researchers

This paper will assess the ethical issue of how retelling asylum stories can affect legal practitioners/ researchers and asylum seekers. It will discuss how the telling of narratives concerning, for example, persecution, torture, ill-treatment or sexual violence can have the effect of re-traumatizing asylum seekers, but also causing psychological harm to listeners. This paper will assess the training given to asylum practitioners and researchers in the UK and will consider if this is sufficient given the multi-faceted issues presented. This paper is part of a wider project which looks at the enhancement of procedural safeguards within asylum interviewing and the presenter will seek views of attendees on their views and experiences.

Kate Seear: A ‘Necessary Evil’? Legal Ethics and the Strategic Deployment of ‘Addiction’ Concepts

Addiction features in legal settings with increasing frequency. Lawyers are often motivated to position their clients’ drug use as a medical condition in the form of an ‘addiction’ on the basis that doing so opens up various legal arguments of benefit to them. These processes also have adverse consequences, however, including the potential to stigmatize and marginalize people who have been labeled as ‘addicts’. In this paper, I argue that strategic decisions around the ‘framing’ of clients’ drug use should be understood as an ethical problem. I also argue that lawyers need to develop a greater appreciation of the discursive and material effects of these processes for those they represent. Drawing upon interview data collected as part of a major new study on the work of Australian and Canadian lawyers whose work involves addiction, and combining feminist, science and technology studies and performativity theories of law, I argue that legal strategizing can simultaneously benefit clients and reinforce drug-related stigma, especially where lawyers construct (or assume) their clients as non-agentive or irrational. This is of concern because people who use drugs are often already assumed to be non-agentive and irrational, and highly stigmatized and marginalized as a result. I call for more critical work that reflects on the ‘ethics’ of such practices. Using Christine Parker’s ‘ethics of care’ model, I conclude with a discussion of how lawyers might navigate cases where ‘addiction’ features in the future, with a view to improving the impact of legal practice on vulnerable populations.

Francine RyanTime for Change: The Need for Ethical Advocacy in Serious Sexual Assault Cases

Traditionally the adversarial trial process has been a battle, pitching one advocate against another, in the hope of persuading the jury their version of the case is the right one. Justice is done when one advocate triumphs but at what cost? Research into the conduct of rape trials has identified practices of inappropriate questioning and brutalizing treatment of complainants. Recently, the media has highlighted the consequences of ‘robust’ criminal advocacy following the suicide of two rape victims after giving evidence. There is real concern that inappropriate advocacy methods are causing additional harm to victims.

This paper will argue that the role of advocate training should be to ensure that advocacy methods are both effective and ethical. Advocacy is a specialist skill the quality and excellence of which will only be achieved through appropriate advocate training which incorporates a strong ethical framework. It is argued that the lack of compulsory specialized training in sexual assault cases is contributing to inappropriate and potentially unethical advocacy methods. To ensure that advocates are able to conduct cases appropriately there needs to be careful consideration of what specialized skills advocates require to handle serious sexual assault cases. In examining advocate training the role of ethical advocacy in an adversarial system needs to be explored. A recognition that good quality ethical advocacy should underpin the criminal justice system and is necessary to meet the needs of both complainants and defendants in serious sexual assault cases is required.

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