The ‘Little Guy’ Lawyer Taking On Sniffer Dogs, Mental Health And Refugees

"Justice is blind. I mean she's not deaf, but she's blind."

There are some things 'little guy' criminal lawyer Jahan Kalantar cannot ignore.

The civil liberties of young Australians is one of them. 

The 30-year-old found himself on the steps of the Supreme Court in Sydney last week to challenge a new sniffer dog operation that has stirred great controversy.

The “blanket” policy from NSW Police saw at least five people refused entry to the Above and Beyond festival last Saturday following a sniffer dog indication. None of them were found to be carrying drugs. 

“This issue was not in the limelight, and now it is,” he told ten daily.

An injunction into NSW Police's sniffer dog indication policy was not successful. Image: AAP

While an initial Greens-led injunction failed to get off the ground,  another potential class action lawsuit is now brewing.

“One of the challenges I have found is that our knowledge in general of society as a whole is always moving faster than the law,” he said. 

"Technology, medicine, health ... everything is moving faster because by the time it comes before the courts, it is something that has had to have caused some kind of issue."

This is what drew Kalantar to a career in criminal law that has seen him represent refugees seeking asylum, people with severe mental health issues and those accused of heinous crimes.

While he made the switch from corporate finance about nine years ago, Kalantar's skepticism of authority started years earlier.

Jahan Kalantar. Image: Supplied

“Back in primary school, in year four, I remember getting in trouble for something that I didn’t do, and I never got a chance to plead my case,” he said.

“It was at that point I realised that authority can get it wrong.”

Being the ‘little guy’ lawyer

Kalantar is proud of his Persian heritage. Coming to Australia when he was one year old, the lawyer said he has seen firsthand the challenges faced by migrant communities.

“I come from an interesting diaspora where I was raised here, so I think like an Australian, but don’t look like one,” he said.

“This has spurred in me that idea that justice is blind. I mean, she’s not deaf, but she’s blind.”

Representing both Iranian and Australian communities -- and “everyone in the middle” -- Kalantar said Australia’s treatment of refugees often foregoes empathy.

“I think a lot of the time, the human story may get lost. It’s important to look at cases on a individual basis and give them the consideration and respect that they deserve.'

“Whoever you speak to on either side of the political spectrum, there should be an acknowledgement that we should do better -- that it is not a crime to seek a better life, free of abuse, of death, of pain," he said. 

Kalantar says Australia's treatment of refugees often foregoes empathy. Image: AAP/Eoin Blackwell/via REUTERS

The same approach applies to the growing complexities surrounding the law and mental health.

“I think it is informed by our understanding of what it means to have a mental health issue, and that is still very much in its infancy,” he said.

“We have made quantum leaps but we’re still learning of the severity of these issues and how they affect a person’s behaviour.”

As he navigates this space -- and fights for people on “some of the hardest days of their life” -- Kalantar said he tries to always lead with empathy.

“The other challenge is acknowledging that the outside and the inside don’t always match.”

"I hope that my clients too remember that I fought for them."

Jahan Kalantar is speaking at TedX in Sydney on Friday. Visit the website for more details.