Posted by & filed under City News, Inner West Independent.

An annual event will applaud the efforts of volunteers and workers next week for helping the underdogs of society.

Hosted by the Law and Justice Foundation, the Justice Awards will celebrate the outstanding contributions of individuals who sought to improve access to justice in NSW, particularly for disadvantaged people.

The Foundation’s director Geoff Mulherin said: “There are people who work tirelessly for years and years, way beyond the call of duty to help others.”

“Many of the previous winners have been quiet achievers who do what they do because they want to give back to the community. The Justice Awards is one way to let these quiet achievers know that their extraordinary efforts are valued by our community.”

Kat Armstrong was a joint winner of the Volunteer Award last year for founding the Women in Prison Advocacy Network (WIPAN).

She learned about the barriers experienced by women in the criminal justice system firsthand as a former heroin user who spent time in jail.

“The reason I founded the organisation was due to the gap in post-release services for women exiting the criminal justice system. I knew that there was a major gap because I had been in prison myself,” Ms Armstrong said.

“When I was released from jail in February 2003 I couldn’t believe how judged I was by the community, how socially isolated I was and how difficult that transition was from prison to the community.”

Winning the award came as a shock for Ms Armstrong. “I was very surprised. I didn’t think someone like me would be able to win an award like that. I was very humbled by it and amazed that all the hard work I had done, and I continue to do, was recognised.”

John Mckenzie took last year’s top honour, the Justice Medal, for his 30-year committment to improving access for Aboriginal people to the justice system.

“It’s a great thing to get recognition. In the sort of work I do there is very little recognition given,” he said.

“I think it’s a great encouragement for everyone working in legal assistance areas to know there is at least one annual function that really recognises the work they do.”

Apart from applauding individuals, the awards also serve to highlight shortcomings and obstacles within the legal system.

Nominations for the 2012 NSW Justice Awards are open till 29 June. Go to www.lawfoundation.net.au to submit a nomination.

By Kate Horowitz