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The Law Society of NSW presented two awards to outstanding solicitors at the Government Solicitors Conference in September.

Sophie Heithersay, a Senior Solicitor within the Legal Division of the NSW Department of Communities and Justice, was awarded the John Hennessy Legal Scholarship, while Susai Benjamin, from NSW Revenue, won the Michelle Crowther Excellence Award.

Heithersay is involved in the implementation and operation of the Terrorism (High Risk Offenders) Act 2017 (NSW), works with NSW Police to develop intervention strategies for terrorism-related offenders, and provides advice on a variety of legal and policy issues.

In particular, she advises on inmates’ access to technology whilst in custody; an issue she is keen to resolve. Heithersay was awarded the John Hennessy Scholarship based on two proposals; firstly to conduct research into the secure digital service ‘PrisonCloud’ used in Belgium and similar programs which have been implemented in the United Kingdom.

Her second proposal was to determine the effectiveness of disengagement programs for terrorism-related offenders in Denmark, Belgium and the United Kingdom, compared to the disengagement programs run by the NSW Police and the NSW Department of Communities and Justice.

While the Department of Communities and Justice has undertaken progressive work in the areas related to these proposals, Heithersay plans to investigate the effectiveness of these programs overseas in the hope they will provide useful insight into how current programs in NSW can be expanded.

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Ronan MacSweeney (left), Susai Benjamin (middle), Law Society President Elizabeth Espinosa (right)

Susai Benjamin won the Michelle Crowther Excellence Award, which was presented at the Government Solicitors Committee meeting on 23 October.

Benjamin has been working with NSW Revenue since 1990, with an impressive 90 per cent success rate in resolving claims through mediation and representation.

As a public servant, Benjamin is conscious of the suffering of vulnerable people in the community and this led him to establish the Toongabbie Legal Centre (TLC). Now in its 12th year, TLC is a free, community-based legal service for those in need in the local area.

The service is provided by volunteer solicitors, law students and other professionals, including several legal practitioners working for the NSW Government.

Benjamin makes himself available in his own time for clients who cannot be accommodated in TLC’s formal sessions. With no state or federal government funding, TLC relies on fundraising to sustain its operations.