Johnson Diversity Series – Astrid Haban-Beer
Astrid Haban-Beer pursued her career as a Barrister at the Victorian Bar in pursuit of a passionate belief in every person’s right to have access to justice.
Astrid Haban-Beer pursued her career as a Barrister at the Victorian Bar in pursuit of a passionate belief in every person’s right to have access to justice.Her experiences and observations about access to justice are influenced by Astrid’s Filipino background. Justice issues such as the length of time until matters were heard; limited or no access to legal representation and the prevalence of ‘crimes of poverty’ led Astrid to become an ardent advocate for human rights. Astrid grew up in regional South Australia and Adelaide, and was also heavily influenced by her family, where her parents strongly encouraged their children to promote multiculturalism, and to call out unfairness when they saw it.
Astrid recognises that there is a tension between the competing rights of participants in the justice system, but she strongly believes that access to legal representation will promote a fair and justice-based outcome. In relation to The Philippines, Astrid is often involved in unpopular cases, where she coordinates with her network to arrange local representation for Australians who are detained on sometimes very serious charges,– while many others shut their eyes to these issues given the gravity of the allegations.. Astrid sits on the executive committee of Australians Detained Abroad, a not for profit organisation that provides advice and support to families who have loved ones detained overseas. Her background and empathy allow her to make a real difference with respect to the detainees.
Astrid explained the importance of the barrister’s “cab-rank principle” – the principle that preserves the independence of the barrister and promotes access to justice. The principle provides that if a barrister is requested to act for a client, then the barrister must accept the brief if it is within the barrister’s area of practice, irrespective of the merits or palatability of the case. This means that barristers cannot ‘pick and choose’ cases and clients have access to independent, specialist advocacy. Since commencing practice as a barrister, Astrid has developed a specialist criminal and public law practice. Astrid prosecutes and defends – in line with the cherished cab-rank principle. She regularly acts in jury trials and other matters involving mental impairment, disability law, terrorism, drug offences and sexual offences. Astrid has also appeared for the State and the Commonwealth in Royal Commissions around Australia.
Astrid champions diversity at the Victorian Bar. She is particularly interested in increasing the profile of culturally diverse advocates, especially culturally diverse women. Astrid believes that diversity of views, gender, culture and experiences deliver better justice outcomes, so it is critical to have greater diversity of advocates, and diversity of judges within the legal system. Astrid also holds leadership positions with Australian Women Lawyers, the Women Barristers Association and was previously Convenor of Victorian Women Lawyers. Gender disparity, inequity and sexual harassment within the legal are issues that Astrid has long fought against.
Throughout her career, Astrid has had the privilege to be mentored by some exceptionally generous and supportive people including other female lawyers and judges. One female barrister who is a strong advocate for promoting women at the bar has inspired Astrid to “lead by example”. Astrid places great importance on the value of mentoring to ensure the successful pathway for the next generation. To this end, Astrid mentors a number of culturally diverse students through Melbourne University, Victorian Women Lawyers, and junior practitioners through the ‘Women in Crime’ mentoring program.
Astrid strongly believes the right approach to succeed is to really live by your values in the work that you do. Astrid comments that Asian-Australians represent a significant and valuable community in Australia and believes that people should focus on the positive contributions that our Asian-Australian population bring to the country – in all industries and communities.
Astrid is one of those making a tremendously positive contribution to our country, and as her mentor advised, she is leading by example.