Alumna shows how people can get justice through strategic litigation

ANU Law alumna Isabelle Reinecke
ANU alumna Isabelle Reinecke started the Grata Fund which supports strategic litigation against governments and corporations

ANU Law was incredibly formative.I realise now that the level of access we had to the law faculty isn't the norm at most law schools.

If you’ve been unfairly harmed by a government’s or corporation’s actions, how can you hold that power to account if you can’t afford litigation?

Enter the Grata Fund, founded by ANU Law alumna, Isabelle Reinecke (Bachelor of Science (Psychology) / Bachelor of Laws (Hons) ’11), who calls it her dream job.

“Unfortunately, without a robust culture of strategic litigation, Australians are dangerously unprotected from misuse of government and corporate power,” Isabelle explains.

“Grata Fund was established to address this asymmetry.”

Its genesis happened while Isabelle worked as Legal Director for the campaign organisation GetUp.

Isabelle started her career as a graduate in the Sydney office of Clayton Utz.

“While I was there, I was fortunate enough to be sent on a pro bono secondment to the East Kimberley in WA, where I worked for Aboriginal clients who were seeking reparations for stolen wages,” she recalls.

“I then started to dip my toe into a range of non-profit work, eventually ending up at GetUp, where I worked to establish the Grata Fund.”

Grata made an international splash at its 2016 inception. It backed a High Court challenge to the Border Force Act brought by Doctors4Refugees and represented by lawyers at the Fitzroy Legal Service. Doctors 4 Refugees challenged gag laws in the Act that threatened doctors and other professionals working on offshore detention with a two-year jail sentence if they spoke out about what they saw on Manus and Nauru.

“The Federal Government finally capitulated in 2017 and repealed the law in response to the case, enabling doctors and other professionals to finally start talking about what they were seeing in offshore detention, free from fear of prosecution,” Isabelle says.

“I'm so proud of our involvement in that case today given the important information that is now flowing from doctors to the Australian public about the health issues currently facing kids and their families on Nauru.”

Since that victory, Grata has supported various successful public litigation efforts including a lawsuit run by Environmental Justice Australia against the Commonwealth Bank over its inaction on climate change, and a case being brought by a remote Aboriginal community fighting the Northern Territory Government for safe and healthy housing.

The Fund aims to shape Australian society by ensuring it upholds human rights and democracy. It does so in three ways:

By incubating and supporting strategic litigation developed across the legal sector on human rights, democracy and climate change;

Removing the critical financial barriers to public interest litigation; and

Building campaign alliances around the cases we support to ensure our cases create lasting change by winning both inside and outside the courtroom.

Some of that hunger to create changes inside and outside courtrooms was nurtured in classrooms at ANU. Isabelle stayed on an extra summer after finishing her classes in 2010 so she could participate in the highly regarded Jessup Moot competition.

“ANU Law was incredibly formative,” she says.

“I realise now that the level of access we had to the law faculty isn't the norm at most law schools.

“I remember one particular interaction with Professor Kim Rubenstein, where she helped me begin to understand what it was I wanted to do after uni. I was confused at the time about why I was a constitutional and admin law nerd on the one hand, and loved international law on the other -- two quite different fields in terms of legal study.

“I remember her explaining to me that, actually, both are really about the rules for how governments can interact with everyday people.

“Looking back on it, Kim drawing that connection for me, really helped me understand what it is I'm most interested in about our legal system – how it interacts with public policy and how important the rule of law and court system are to ensuring that our governments are held accountable to the people who elect them.

“Kim now sits on the Grata Fund Advisory Council, so remains a regular source of wisdom to this day.

“I was also extremely lucky to have been taught by Wayne Morgan, Don Anton and James Stellios – all incredible public and public interest law experts.”

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team