Marking three years of the Eleos Anti-Death Penalty Clinic

Marking three years of the Eleos Anti-Death Penalty Clinic

Sara Kowal | 13 July 2021

“I was part of the first group of students to take part in the Eleos Anti-Death Penalty Clinic. Whilst in the clinic I worked with a group of students, Julian McMahon SC AC and a local team to file a clemency application for a client who had been on death row since before I was born. The team were able to provide assistance to this client who had been largely forgotten in the death penalty system. I continued volunteering with Eleos Justice and travelled to New Orleans to volunteer at the Capital Appeals Project. In New Orleans, I conducted a research project into racial bias in capital trials and was involved in lots of interesting work including observing a death penalty trial, visiting clients in Louisiana State Penitentiary (‘Angola’), and helping review case files. More recently, I was involved in a last-minute appeal in which we successfully prevented the execution of an individual on death row. Working with Eleos Justice has helped me find a passion for international and human rights law and criminal justice reform.”  (Lulu Banay, student from the 2018 Eleos Clinic)

At the Eleos Anti-Death Penalty Clinic (Eleos Clinic), we partner with anti-death penalty NGOs and lawyers across the Asia-Pacific region to support them with their casework and advocacy; students utilise their emerging legal skills and work alongside our partners. The Eleos Clinic is open to Monash undergraduate and post-graduate law students. Our students work in small teams on a variety of projects from assisting on casework, drafting UN submissions, to producing  campaign briefs for policy makers in retentionist states who may be trying to introduce legislation that expands the scope of the death penalty. The Eleos Clinic has also produced two short videos—'children of death row inmates’ and ‘the right to effective legal representation’ for the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, an umbrella organisation that brings together anti-death penalty NGOs across the world.

Many of our partners operate in jurisdictions where collaborating and partnering with a ‘foreign’ university is problematic. In some cases, our partners risk their personal safety by sharing information with the Eleos Clinic. Sending confidential information overseas to law students involves a high level of trust on their part. In return, our students have a responsibility to deliver what the partners need. Many of the underlying legal analytical skills students acquire throughout their law degree are relevant and transferrable regardless of the jurisdiction of the case. Time and time again, we are witness to the harsh conditions on death row, the highly punitive nature of drug policy that results in punishing the vulnerable, and the lack of procedural guarantees from the use of torture during police interrogations to inadequate (or the lack of) legal representation. While the subject matter is very confronting and disheartening, the opportunity to work with our outstanding local partners in advocating for the abolition of the death penalty has been extremely rewarding.

We are certainly not the first clinical program to offer such an experience: our colleagues at Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide were very generous in sharing their expertise when we were starting out. Since then, we have been able to adapt our model to effectively support partners across the Asia-Pacific region. This Clinic was the first step in creating Eleos Justice, a collaboration between Monash Law and a Melbourne-based NGO Capital Punishment Justice Project (CPJP). The ongoing support from CPJP has ensured the steady expansion of our capacity to work in various jurisdictions across the region. I’m grateful to our clinical supervisors Sally Andersen and Jennifer Paneth, and for the continued support of Professor Jeff Giddings, Melissa Fletcher and Matthew Goldberg. One of the best outcomes has been the steady number of students who completed the Eleos Clinic and stayed on as volunteers. Eleos Justice recently welcomed four additional Fellows, two of whom have completed the Eleos Clinic, and a third who is the recipient of the first Eleos HDR (PhD) scholarship.

This month, we mark the three-year anniversary of the Eleos Clinic. Since July 2018, 114 students have completed the Clinic. We have provided assistance in ten countries across the Asia-Pacific region. As founder and manager of the Eleos Clinic, I feel very privileged to see the huge array of impact our students’ work has created, with the guidance of exceptional human rights defenders across the globe. My hope is that the experience of creating meaningful impact emboldens our students to use their law degrees in innovative ways, ensuring that the most vulnerable voices are amplified and protected.

“Participating in the ADPC has taught me the importance of humanising human rights. It has empowered me to “dream big” in relation to the impact that I can have as an individual, and I look forward to using the lessons learnt from the ADPC in my future endeavours.” (Joy Tabalujan, student from the 2021 Eleos Clinic)

Sara and students

Sara Kowal is founder and manager of the Eleos Anti-Death Penalty Clinic. Sara is an experienced criminal lawyer, having practiced since 2003; she has extensive experience in defending complex prosecutions. Sara is Vice-President of the Capital Punishment Justice Project and is on the Executive Board of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN).