“These organisations do such great work but they’re so stretched – they need you and appreciate you and give you lots of genuine, meaningful work to do.”

A more perfect internship fit is hard to imagine.

Felicity Negus is a UWA law student with a grassroots insight into the impact of mental health issues on the community – she has worked on the phones and the online chat service at Lifeline for almost two years.

In the same period, Australia’s first ‘Mental Health Court’ has found its legs in WA. It’s a real court that hands down actual sentences, but all cases are looked at through the prism of the mental health issues that led to the offence.

Via the McCusker Centre for Citizenship, the WA Mental Health Court – also known as ‘Start Court’ – sought the assistance of a capable student to help draft its official ‘guidelines’ of operation.

Enter Felicity.

“It was so suited to me – it was my number one internship choice,” Felicity says. “But I’d never even heard of it until I started looking at McCusker internships.

“It’s amazing that dedicated drug courts have existed for so long yet it’s only now that we’ve started to recognise the impact of mental health on offending.

“People with mental health issues face issues that make them more vulnerable to not receiving both justice and support.”

Felicity admits she was initially daunted by the prospect of helping to write the Start Court’s guidelines, which include all aspects of its goals and operations from eligibility criteria through to consent and confidentiality issues.

“There’s no Australian precedent so I had to do a lot of research based on overseas guidelines and ideas,” she says. “I felt lost at times, but all the way I was supported by the court’s Magistrate. She had such a clear vision and communicated it so well – we always seemed to be on the same page.”

Coincidentally, the Start Court Magistrate is another ‘Felicity’ – Felicity Zempilas.

The younger Felicity says she could not have hoped for a better supervisor, saying Zempilas’ enthusiasm inspired her to learn more and ultimately put her hand up for work beyond the internship.

“The Start Court is just so meaningful to me and the sort of lawyer I want to be – it’s such a human approach to the law and it just makes sense,” she says.

“I want to stay on and be connected to these people because this is where I would love to be involved in the law in future.

“It was so satisfying to see the guidelines take shape and it’s given me the confidence that I could do something this big again.”

Felicity says her experience at Start Court has shown her that not all internships are created equal.

“McCusker links student with not-for-profit organisations that do great work but they’re so stretched – so they actually need you and appreciate you and give you lots of genuine, meaningful work to do.

“You quickly realise that this is experience you simply can’t get at uni and that your small contribution can help make a big difference. “I feel so very lucky and grateful for this experience – it worked out so well for me in every way.”

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