19 September 2023

Following a career practicing family law and criminal justice with the Victoria Police, Gatwech Wal joined FLS in June as a Community Lawyer committed to supporting at risk community members through family law and family violence matters. Gatwech brings with him extensive qualifications, volunteering and experience surviving war and conflict that drives his sense of justice today.  

From a career with the Victorian Police, what motivated you to practice law? 

I had a master’s degree in justice and criminology from RMIT University and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration while working with Victoria Police. It wasn’t until my Senior Sergeant said that my community needed lawyers that I thought that was something I had to pursue.  

The Victoria Police were incredibly generous, and they offered me a scholarship and they paid for books which can be expensive. I thought to myself, I have this heart, I have this support, why not?  

Amidst volunteering, full-time work and a young family, how did find the time to complete an additional degree? 

It’s just a matter of commitment. There is a lot of opportunities in Australia, and nothing comes unless you work towards it. Coming from civil conflict and over 11 years living in an Ethiopian refugee camp, I truly believe Australia is paradise on earth. There was no law and justice there. You can survive or die. That’s all. 

As a child I was separated from my family by a rebel conflict and together with my brother, were recruited as child soldiers. Then in refugee camps, even when they were run by the UN, the people managing them had the ability to deny food, human rights and justice. I’ve seen what happens when there is no law and enforcement in operation, and people take matters into their own hands.  

How did these early experiences of war and conflict shape your understanding of justice? 

So many admired leaders have been lawyers including Mandela from South Africa.

When it comes to making change and bringing about the justice we seek, the law plays an important role in laying a path of fairness.

Gatwech Wal, FLS Community Lawyer

Everything we do in this country is impacted and governed by law; from the way we talk to one another through to access to our children. It’s where you can really help.  

What did you learn about law and enforcement during your time with the police? 

Working as police officer, I learnt positive and negative things about the police. They were very supportive, and I learnt important leadership skills and built technical capacity. While it’s a hierarchical and bureaucratic environment, I think there is justice in the work of police in developed countries. They care for the community even amidst their errors. The biggest discrimination I experience has come from clients not the workplace.  

What does that discrimination look like? 

Many people misjudge you when you have an accent. Despite being multilingual and holding multiple degrees in English, they think you don’t know what you are doing. I experienced this from one of our clients during my first cases as a duty lawyer.  

Of course, you need to protect yourself, but I approached the matter with patience and by the time I got her intervention order in place, she had rung me with great thanks. I hope that one day we stop judging a book by its cover, but until then it’s important that we answer the call and be the light people need.  

How have you found your time at FLS and what’s a day in your job look like? 

I feel very supported working with the Family Law and Family Violence team. Everywhere I look there are smiling faces, and my team are appreciative and remarkable to work with. For now, I’m working at the Heidelberg Magistrates’ Court where we receive referrals via the court or from Victoria Legal Aid.  

Most of these are family law matters which involve lodging applications to divide assets, supporting custody cases and providing court representation when clients need it. It’s incredibly valuable work and I look forward to learning more from my colleagues to continue building my skills and experience to drive justice for our clients.  

Find out more on FLS legal support for Family Law and Family Violence matters.

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