From Defence to Advocacy

Verity Smith (2007), a shining example of social justice advocacy, has dedicated her career to fighting against injustices within the legal system. Her journey from criminal defence to civil law reflects a profound commitment to serving those marginalised by society. She recently shared insights with us into her pivotal roles and the driving forces behind her passion for social equity.

Verity’s foray into social justice began as early as 2015 when she was awarded the Ascham Leadership Scholarship*. This led her to intern at Reprieve, an organisation combatting the death penalty. During her time in the US at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Centre (LCAC), she provided legal representation and humanitarian aid to individuals on death row. This experience laid the groundwork for her transition from criminal defence to civil law, where she now focuses on holding law enforcement accountable for their actions.

Reflecting on her journey, Verity emphasises her desire to shift from being reactive in criminal defence to proactive in civil law. She describes her role as Senior Solicitor at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) as multifaceted, involving civil litigation, advocacy and collaboration with other legal and civil society groups.

Leading PIAC’s Police and Prisons practice, Smith and her team have spearheaded efforts to challenge harmful policing practices, advocating for change and drawing attention to systemic problems by writing reports and engaging with the media, NSW Parliament and the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission. They collaborate closely with other legal and civil society groups whose communities are most impacted by harmful and unlawful policing practices. As a result of the strides made by her team, Verity has seen tangible changes to NSW Policing practices. The most recent of these is NSW Police abandoning the use of the Suspect Target Management Plan (STMP) on young people, following years of advocacy from PIAC and its partners—a testament to the power of collective action.

Verity attributes her passion for social justice to her experiences working alongside dedicated and principled lawyers, both at LCAC and the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT. Witnessing their tireless efforts within a flawed system inspired her to pursue a career centred on public accountability. Her particular interest lies in holding individuals in power answerable to the mistreatment of society’s most vulnerable members.

When asked about advice she would have given to her younger self, Verity emphasises the importance of patience and mindfulness. She encourages living in the moment, absorbing knowledge and savouring the journey. Her words resonate with aspiring advocates, reminding them that meaningful change often requires steadfast dedication and perseverance.

In the realm of social justice, Verity Smith embodies the values of integrity, compassion and resilience. Through her unswerving dedication, she inspires a new generation of changemakers to follow in her footsteps.

Alexandra Wenderoth (Beer 1993)

* Applications are open now for the 2025 Ascham Leadership Scholarship. Read more and apply here.

8 May 2024

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