Malaysian Harvard law student wins prestigious US award for helping poor clients

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 23 May 2024

PETALING JAYA: Malaysian Arjun Gananathan, a Doctor of Law candidate at Harvard Law School in the United States, has won the 2024 Ralph D. Gants Access to Justice Award.

The award recognises a student dedicated to improving access to justice and equity.

It was established in 2021 to honour the late Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief and advocate for social justice, Ralph D. Gants.

Arjun, 28, told Harvard Law Today that he felt privileged to receive the award.

"Chief Justice Gant's work serves as a reminder that representation of the marginalised is the greatest honour of our profession."

He said his best memories were in-court victories for clients of the CJI, a criminal defence clinic representing poor or indigent clients in Massachusetts.

He cited the example of his first court appearance where the Commonwealth was seeking to separate his client, a single mother, from her young special-needs son for 90 days.

"I successfully argued for my client's pre-trial release," he said.

He cited another case where he was suddenly asked to defend a juvenile client just 48 hours before he was supposed to sit for a final exam.

"We defeated the prosecution’s bail revocation motions and got her released from custody pending trial.

"These victories are special to me because they preserved someone's freedom and kept families together," he said.

Harvard Law Today said Arjun is honoured "for his thoughtful and emphatic leadership in the Youth Advocacy and Policy Lab and the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI).

"He has displayed unwavering commitment to examining and interrogating the criminal system through a lens of racial equity."

Crisanne Hazen, a law lecturer and director of the Child Advocacy Clinic said Arjun approaches everything "with a tremendously thoughtful and measured approach, an ability to see both sides of a complex problem, and a willingness to acknowledge his positionality and role in a system that disproportionately burdens black and brown people."

Arjun graduated from the University College of Los Angeles (UCLA) with a degree in Psychology and Linguistics.

He has also completed valuable pro bono work as a member of the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project and the Mississippi Delta Project (MDP).

During his first year in the MDP, Arjun worked on the Economic Justice Project, an initiative focused on the legacy of discrimination against black farmers in Mississippi.

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