Regional | Ngāti Hine

Ngāti Hine lawyer wins award after launch of first free legal clinic

Lawyer Keegan Jones (25) has won the Young Alumni Community Impact Award at the University of Canterbury’s inaugural Young Alumni Awards held over the weekend.

It comes in recognition of his mahi to make justice accessible to whānau after launching his first free legal clinic in Whangārei earlier this year.

The clinic, in partnership with Ngāti Hine Health Trust, was made to “fill a gap in the market” and reduce barriers in the justice system.

“I wanted to target, specifically, Māori who are disproportionately represented in our justice system. I felt like the best way to do that was to provide a free legal clinic that provided access to justice but also reduced barriers in a way of te ao Māori and tikanga Māori,” he says.

“Northland has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country. People can’t even afford food, let alone a lawyer, but to have a legal clinic, which is free and an option for people, I feel, is something important for this community.”

Since the opening in March, Jones says the mahi in the clinic has brought excitement and challenges but he wouldn’t have it any other way if it meant the betterment of his people.

There has been a demand, in particular, in cases dealing with whenua and criminal law.

“You can tell that they have a lot of raruraru, a lot of weight on their shoulders. You can tell they are tired, stressed out.

“When they’re in the clinic they can discuss the issues, give them a course of action to go down. Once they leave, they’re smiling. That’s the biggest thing for me and the most important impact for me.”

One free legal clinic is not enough, as he works on the Free Legal Clinics Project to open more clinics around the motu.

“We’re currently working in two rohe, one in Auckland and the other in Waikato, who had an interest and connected with me, wanting to start their own regional legal clinic.”

Public Interest Journalism