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No interpreter in court and a client kicked out onto the streets at Christmas. Sarah Schwartz writes about one of her first court appearances as a solicitor for Legal Aid NSW, which led to an important decision about state tenancy rights.

My first case as a solicitor at Legal Aid was representing an elderly Iranian man who had been made homeless after his landlord illegally changed the locks. Despite his limited English, he had gone to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal and obtained $2,000 compensation. His outraged landlord appealed. She wanted a payout for her legal costs and, among other things, my client ‘ruining Christmas’.

What at first seemed straightforward – compensation for a clear legal wrong – became complicated by the restrictions on damages for personal injury and non-economic loss under the Civil Liability Act. My client had not suffered any economic loss from the eviction; he didn’t have the funds to stay in emergency accommodation. What he sought compensation for was less quantifiable – the distress and discomfort of being made to sleep on the streets, being told to ‘move on’ by police officers, not being able to shower, and feeling generally unsafe. Unlike commercial parties, the losses suffered by many Legal Aid clients are unquantifiable; being made homeless, being strip-searched in public, or being held in custody due to an administrative error.

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