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Legal assistance priority area

Improving legal assistance access, representation and integration across the family violence system

This priority area focuses on improving access to legal assistance and representation. It also enhances integration between the legal assistance sector (such as Victoria Legal AidExternal Link ) and the broader family violence service system.

These activities focus on early intervention, workforce capacity and responding to the impact of COVID-19.

They support victim survivors to understand their legal options and make informed decisions about their family and safety needs and to advocate for their access to justice. They also help perpetrators understand police and court processes and meet any obligations associated with court outcomes.

The Family Violence Legal Assistance Working Group (co-chaired by the Department of Justice and Community Safety and the Federation of Community Legal Centres) determined the order and priority for delivering these activities in 2022 and 2023. The working group took into consideration the demands on the sector as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the breadth of work committed to.

What has happened?

There has been some progress towards implementing Rolling Action Plan activities within the legal assistance priority area. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across the legal system were significant. As a result, we focused on the immediate delivery of services, rather than broader reform to improve legal assistance access, representation and integration across the family violence system.

The Legal assistance priority area is closely aligned with the Courts priority area. In particular, this occurs through activities, services and programs provided through the Specialist Family Violence Courts.

Courts priority area

    • Victoria Legal Aid is implementing and has had an initial evaluation of the Specialist Family Violence Courts legal practice model. This forms part of the Specialist Family Violence Courts implementation at Shepparton, Ballarat, Moorabbin, Heidelberg and Frankston Magistrates’ Courts. Victoria Legal Aid is working with local groups and committees at each site to embed and refine the model’s processes.
    • A pilot of Victoria Legal Aid’s Information and Referral Officer role is in place at the Specialist Family Violence Courts in Shepparton, Ballarat and Moorabbin. This has aided service delivery, especially during COVID-19 restriction periods. A priority phone line has also been created under the model. This phone line accepts calls from professionals servicing the Frankston and Heidelberg Specialist Family Violence Courts.
    • The Pre-Court Engagement and Resolution Pilot provides early legal assistance to family violence intervention order parties and, where appropriate, supports the resolution of family violence intervention order matters prior to the court date. Court users may also be referred to other services, such as court family violence practitioners, including specialist LGBTIQ+ and Umalek Balit practitioners, and interpreters. The pilot commenced at Frankston Magistrates’ Court in April 2020. A further $7.75 million was provided by the Victorian Government in the 2020–21 state budget to service seven Magistrates’ Court locations at Broadmeadows, Dandenong, Melbourne, Sunshine, Ringwood, Werribee and the Latrobe Valley.
    • A pilot is being developed to connect clients of The Orange Door network with legal services that meet their needs in a timely manner. This will also ensure effective connections with family violence and/or family services through The Orange Door network.
  • An Australia-wide legal practitioner framework

    Victoria has co-led an initiative with the Commonwealth, which aims to ensure that the Commonwealth, the state and territory Attorneys-General embed family violence competency into continuing professional development frameworks for legal practitioners across Australia.

    This is a significant step that has seen Victoria working with the Commonwealth and other states and territories to undertake extensive consultation with legal stakeholders. These include the Law Society and Bar Association in every jurisdiction (in Victoria, these are the Law Institute of Victoria and the Victorian Bar Association), the Law Council of Australia, the Australian Bar Association, the Legal Services Council, the Victorian Legal Services Board and the Legal Practise Board of Western Australia.

    These consultations have highlighted broad support for a discretionary model. This will encourage all legal practitioners to engage in regular family violence training by amending guidance materials issued by regulators. The outcomes of this work will be communicated to stakeholders soon.

    • The Royal Women's Hospital has implemented the Acting on the Warning Signs Project as part of the Health Justice Partnership movement in Australia. The initiative offers free legal assistance to inpatients and outpatients and is delivered on-site (the lawyer being located within the hospital). The program focuses on removing some of the barriers women may face when seeking legal advice such as cost and access. Participants in the program reported that ‘receiving legal advice had a positive impact upon their psychological and emotional health immediately during or after the consultation’.

What is next

We are considering and prioritising a number of activities in the legal assistance area delivery commencing in 2022. This will provide clear direction for the sector on what will be delivered.

There are some activities already in progress that will continue, including:

What does this mean for outcomes

  • Activities delivered under this priority area have played an important role in keeping victim survivors safe, especially during periods of COVID-19 restrictions. The shift to online accessibility and other adaptations to the legal system help improve victim survivors’ safety by moving towards online and remote service delivery. This is a tangible outcome for victim survivors, who do not need to worry about engaging with or seeing the perpetrator.

  • The delivery of legal assistance activities will keep perpetrators accountable and further support victim survivors’ safety by improving access to legal support and representation. The Pre-Court Engagement and Resolution Pilot identifies and refers respondents to family violence intervention order matters to legal assistance. It also refers them to family violence practitioners to provide non-legal information, support and referrals. This supports perpetrators to be accountable for their actions.

  • We are changing the legal system to better support victim survivors and build consistency of understanding and approach across legal services and other areas of the sector. This supports a family violence system that is integrated, person centred and responsive. Activities in this priority area will help integrate legal assistance across the broader family violence system. As victim survivors and perpetrators interact with the family violence system at various points access to legal assistance is also needed at various points. The development of the pilot to embed legal services in The Orange Door network is one approach that could support capability building within the sector and increase the ability of the system to intervene earlier to identify and respond to family violence.

Reviewed 14 April 2022

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