JD student in pursuit of justice

A family trip to South Africa as a child sparked what has been an ongoing interest in human rights and social justice issues for second-year Melbourne JD student Claire Poyser.

Claire Poyser

Second-year Melbourne JD student Claire Poyser

The 22-year-old says the eye-opening experience was the catalyst in participating in model United Nations and public speaking competitions in high school, before undertaking a law degree combined with internships and work experience with organisations such as the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

"To see some of the issues at play, even at aged four - for example, my brother just by virtue of being raised in Australia was substantially more nourished than the babies we met in South Africa – was staggering," Ms Poyser says.

Now, Ms Poyser is using her professional experience and education to help those facing a number of issues, particularly women and immigrants enduring domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking.

Her growing list of organisations at which she has interned or volunteered with is a roll call of résumé-builders but her aims are entirely selfless.

"The benefit of internships is they give you real-life insight into a workplace, an area of expertise, how you can use legal skills in a variety of ways, like research, drafting, all kinds of things," Ms Poyser says.

"The first consideration is not what I can get out of it, it is that there is an obvious need in this area that I have knowledge that I can use to assist."

Ms Poyser is currently a paralegal team leader at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Footscray, where she has worked since September last year.

"Even in that time, we've seen such dramatic changes in the Migration Act, which governs that migration law, and our intake of clients in a diverse range of programs – limited assistance, women's clinic – has just exploded, essentially," she says.

A year ago, Ms Poyser interned at the AHRC where she worked alongside President Gillian Triggs and Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, two women she says she admires greatly.

Later that year, the JD student presented a report on issues facing young women to Federal Parliament on behalf of Plan Australia following consultation with primary school students.

The issues are as diverse as they are shocking - stereotyping, sex education, eating disorders, mental health, and sexual assaults in the public space.

Coupled with the experience of seeing first-hand the sex trafficking trade and bonded labour at practice in India during a Stop the Traffik trip earlier this year, Ms Poyser is determined to make a difference.

She says witnessing such issues has provided lessons outside of the classroom that show her how to apply the legal principles learned at Melbourne Law School.

"My legal education at Melbourne Law School has been first-class. That's undisputed. This is the best law school in the country. But I could never have learned any of these lessons in the classroom." she says.

"Combined with the theory I've learned at Law School, I'm really hoping this will set me up well to practice."

By Andy Walsh