Dux / Class of 2000
Eleanore was recently awarded a Churchill Fellowship
Eleanore Fritze (Dux, Class of 2000) was recently awarded a Churchill Fellowship and has just embarked on an overseas study tour to New York, Washington DC, England, Vienna and Budapest.
Eleanore, a Senior Mental Health and Disability Rights Lawyer at Victoria Legal Aid, is undertaking an international research project that will reach behind closed doors to find better ways of protecting the rights of people with disabilities who are detained for compulsory treatment.
Eleanore, who has worked at Victoria Legal Aid since 2006 has always been interested in mental health and disability issues, in particular their intersection with the justice system. She has also worked as a personal care attendant for people with disabilities, has postgraduate qualifications in disability studies and was the inaugural duty lawyer at the Assessment and Referral Court List, a specialist Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for people with a mental illness or cognitive impairment accused of crime.
After a number of different roles at Victoria Legal Aid, Eleanore settled in the Mental Health and Disability Advocacy program for two main reasons. “I get to work both within the system – helping those whose rights are being restricted simply because they have a disability. And, I get to work on the system – trying to improve the laws and practices to benefit people with disabilities,” she says.
People with cognitive impairments or mental illness can be detained indefinitely and treated without consent, even if they haven’t committed an offence. “This can be in a high secure forensic facility with high walls, razor wire, air locked entries and biometric security. They may be detained alongside prisoners who have committed violent acts. They may also be detained in psychiatric units or group homes in the community,” she says.
“My project will reach behind closed doors to better protect the human rights and dignity of these individuals through the use of innovative legal services.”
Eleanore strongly agrees that legal help is critical in ensuring that these far-reaching decisions around detention and compulsory treatment apply the law correctly, are based on evidence, and are the least restrictive possible in the circumstances. “It’s timely to get an overview of how legal services similar to our own operate, as currently the opportunities presented by Victoria’s new Mental Health Act 2014 are still being explored,” says Eleanore.
She hopes that her research will benefit both the people receiving direct legal assistance and other Australians with a disability who are detained for compulsory treatment. “Not only is rights-based advocacy far more entrenched in Europe and the US but disability legal services have existed for longer and have advanced practice wisdom.’
Eleanore grew up in a family with a very strong social justice drive – a family of thinkers, educators and helpers. Eleanore’s mother attended CGGS, graduating as Co-Dux in 1969 and was confident CGGS was the school of choice for Eleanore.
Eleanore was a Peer Support Leader and the School’s strong social justice values reinforced her family values. These helped develop her own ethical framework, part of which is that if you see something wrong or unfair, you should not only speak up but to do something about it.
Eleanore’s social conscience led her to study law and political science at university because both of those systems have such a powerful impact in either contributing to or redressing the inequalities in our society. Working in these fields carries the potential for dramatically improving the circumstances in which people live.
“I became particularly interested in disability issues after working as a disability carer and seeing firsthand how extremely disadvantaged and invisible people can become when they have or acquire a disability,” she confirms.
Eleanore expects her research to bring fresh insights and new ways of thinking which will be most valuable for Victoria’s own Mental Health and Disability Advocacy program. Congratulations Eleanore!