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Legal Assistance

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

Building momentum

Legal assistance for both victim survivors and perpetrators is an integral part of the family violence service system. It is both a source of advice on legal matters and a gateway to other support services.

Victim survivors need information about their legal options to support decisions about their family and safety needs and to advocate for their access to justice.

Legal assistance also helps perpetrators to understand police and court processes and to meet obligations associated with court outcomes, such as adhering to any court orders and conditions, including attending men’s behaviour change programs.

Legal assistance is integral to supporting better outcomes for children and young people who are experiencing family violence at home.

We are committed to ensuring that family violence legal assistance is effectively embedded and integrated across the family violence system.

The Royal Commission into Family Violence found that unequal access to legal assistance was facilitating perpetrators to abuse and exert control over victim survivors.

It has commonly forced victim survivors to deplete their financial resources to access legal representation.

The Legal Assistance reform priority is intended to address inequity to ensure that the justice system is accessible and effective for all.

The first phase of the reform has been focused on establishing strong foundations in the legal assistance sector by increasing access to legal support services, building a specialist workforce and ensuring there is a specific focus on Aboriginal Justice through dedicated funding for Djirra and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.

The family violence reform is ongoing and further work is required to strengthen the integration of the legal assistance sector with the broader family violence service system. 

Our priorities are:

  • strengthening connections between legal services and the specialist family violence sector, including The Orange Door network 
  • increasing access, including to culturally safe legal services by investing in legal assistance for at-risk groups 
  • supporting the family violence, justice and legal assistance sectors through workforce initiatives to better identify and respond to client risks and needs 
  • working with the Commonwealth to embed family violence competency within professional development frameworks for legal practitioners

We have heard that several issues require further examination and consultation, including: 

  • access to justice barriers 
  • perpetrators’ exploitation of legal processes 
  • stronger pathways between legal and related supports

We are committed to addressing these issues through ongoing engagement with the legal assistance sector. This will ensure that the family violence service system continues to evolve to meet the needs of victim survivors and keep perpetrators in view. 

Progress since 2016 

Actions since the Royal Commission to improve access to legal assistance are grouped here into three areas. 

    • 2016/17 State Budget - $4.6 million for family violence legal assistance
    • 2017/18 State Budget - a further investment of $49.8 million over four years for legal responses to family violence and child protection, and further $11 million over 4 years for culturally appropriate family violence legal services for Aboriginal communities
  1. We have increased access to legal support services through the following initiatives:

    • people with complex matters received additional support through Victorian Legal Aid grants
    • extended hours for Legal Help Phoneline and dedicated responses to family violence related issues
    • access to family violence duty lawyer services for family violence and child protection matters increased by more than 33 per cent between 2017 and 2019, as recorded by Victoria Legal Aid
    • increased and enhanced access to legal support through initiatives such as funding grants for family violence-related legal assistance at 30 Community Legal Centres
    • legal services and financial counsellors have strengthened referral pathways to respond to the intersecting needs of victim survivors, with particular attention to debt reduction and supporting victim survivors to regain economic security: for example, Consumer Affairs Victoria provides funding for a financial counsellor to be integrated at Women’s Legal Service Victoria
    • access provided to a new Victoria Legal Aid office in Ballarat in June 2020

    The new office will help Victoria Legal Aid meet the needs of the growing region and continue to deliver critical legal services.

    Attorney-General Jill Hennessy
    speaking on the opening of the new Victoria Legal Aid office in Ballarat
    June 2020
  2. The specialist legal services workforce provides holistic family violence-related support. Achievements include:

    • Specialist Family Violence Court legal practice model established
    • training for legal professionals continues to reflect best-practice risk assessment guidance
    • training for specialist family violence practitioners to help them respond to their clients’ legal needs through Critical Legal Issues Map training, run by Women’s Legal Service Victoria and funded by Family Safety Victoria
    • Women’s Legal Service Victoria Safer Families program

Delivery to 2023

Legal assistance activities for the next three years builds on base funding and has a focus on early intervention, workforce capacity, service integration and responding to the impact of COVID-19.

This overview of our planned legal assistance activities to 2023 is grouped into five areas.

  1. Increasing capacity for early access to legal support, case management and enhanced legal response will help reduce risk and prevent escalation and complexity of legal issues.

    Activities
    Review legal assistance recommendations from the Positive Interventions for Perpetrators of Adolescent Violence in the Home report, completed by Australian National Research Organisation for Women's Safety (ANROWS) and Centre for Innovative Justice Mid 2021 DJCS
    Establish pathways for earlier legal assistance referrals Late 2021 DJCS
    Victoria Police
    CSV
    Work with Victoria Legal Aid on the continued implementation and evaluation of Specialist Family Violence Courts legal practice model 2021-2022 CSV
  2. Workforce capability building initiatives will further support the family violence, justice and legal assistance sectors to better identify and respond to client risks and needs.

    Activities
    Working with legal services to ensure that training aligns with the Family Violence Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management Framework (MARAM) where appropriate

    While legal professionals are not prescribed under the MARAM Framework, the training is informed and guided by the MARAM principles

    Ongoing DJCS
    Explore opportunities to continue Women’s Legal Service Victoria Safer Families program Mid 2021 DJCS
    Commonwealth, States and Territories Attorneys-General embed family violence competency into Continuing Professional Development frameworks for legal practitioners across Australia Late 2021 DJCS
  3. We will continue strengthening connections across legal, family violence and community-based services to increase the network of legal and family violence support available to victim survivors and people who use violence. This is already supported by a number of forums including the Regional Integration Committees.

    Embedding legal services within health, community and education settings increases access to justice and provides an opportunity to identify and address the complex systems and structures that compound disadvantage. 

    Activities
    Work continues between legal services and courts to pilot early referrals to legal services Early 2021 CSV
    Establish a statewide approach to the connection and coordination of legal services within The Orange Door network in every area 2021 DJCS
    FSV
    Explore opportunities to expand school lawyer programs delivered by Community Legal Centres

    These programs have a crime prevention focus and provide prevention and early intervention supports, including legal education on interacting with police and protective services officers, fines and consequences of getting a criminal record

    2021 DJCS
    DET
    Work with Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, Victoria Police and Family Safety Victoria to explore broader referral options for perpetrator interventions Mid 2021 DJCS
    Work with No To Violence men’s referral service, to establish referral pathways to legal services for men who use violence Late 2021 DJCS
    Increase legal assistance referral pathways for victim survivors Late 2021 DJCS
    Develop resources for integrated service providers to increase legal referrals Late 2021 DJCS
    Support Djirra to expand regional service delivery capacity Late 2021 DJCS
    Identify opportunities across the family violence, justice and legal assistance sectors to support improved identification of client legal risks and needs Early 2022 DJCS
    The statewide approach to the connection and coordination of legal services is embedded across The Orange Door network 2022 DJCS
    FSV
  4. Recovering from the COVID-19 will require new and innovative approaches to the provision of legal services.

    Social distancing restrictions made it harder for people to access legal help. However, additional funding of $17.5 million for frontline legal assistance providers to adapt to remote service delivery and meet increased demand enabled us to support Victorians with a range of issues including family violence-related matters.

    Additional funding during COVID-19 has enabled us to increase access to legal assistance, including to Victorians experiencing family violence.

    In addition, Victoria received $12 million over two years from the Commonwealth to support the legal assistance sector to meet the demands of COVID-19. Of this, $3.7 million is to be directed, where possible, to family violence services.

    The Victorian Government is committed to re-engaging people with these services as we recover from the COVID-19 to ensure victim survivors and perpetrators of family violence receive the legal help they need.

    This means heeding the important lessons and building upon the successful innovations that have emerged across the legal system, including the adaptation of legal assistance services to provide remote advice and representation.

    Remote legal assistance will help ensure equitable access to services across the state. Options for further embedding these innovations will be explored.

    Activities
    Explore opportunities to build on the Victoria Legal Aid Legal Help Phoneline and Legal Help Chat 2021 DJCS
    Explore opportunities to further embed and expand upon improved pathways from Victoria Legal Aid’s Legal Help to Duty Lawyer service for pre-court legal assistance 2021 DJCS
    Consider the benefits of complementing the Specialist Family Violence Courts model with remote service delivery and enhanced Audio-Visual Link technology, the use of which has been accelerated during COVID-19 2021 CSV
    DJCS
    Begin evaluation of options to continue the use of audio-visual link for remote service delivery at court locations Early 2021 DJCS
    Develop cohort-specific responses for alternative engagement methods, e.g. digital platforms, online referral tools, telephone etc. Early 2021 DJCS
    Review and assess COVID-19 pre-court legal assistance initiatives implemented by the courts, providing information and referrals earlier and electronically 2021 DJCS
    CSV
    Consider options for expanding early engagement methods Mid 2021 CSV
    Victoria Police
  5. I would have left earlier if I had more knowledge of what to do and where to go.

    Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council
    Rolling Action Plan consultation workshop
    August 2020

    A wealth of feedback was received from across the sector, academia and victim survivors. We are committed to ongoing engagement with the legal assistance sector to reflect upon and respond to the feedback received. Key activities will include:

    Activities
    Develop solutions to access to justice barriers, for example, perpetrators’ exploitation of legal processes, including deliberately creating conflict of interest issues to limit victim survivors’ access to legal assistance Late 2021 DJCS
    Identify avenues to better support access to legal assistance for children and young people Late 2021 DJCS
    Establish stronger pathways between legal services and related supports, with attention to the importance of financial counsellors Late 2021 DJCS

    Develop pre-separation legal information for victim survivors to ensure they are informed of their rights and responsibilities prior to making the decision to leave the relationship

    Late 2021 DJCS

The reforms to increase access to legal assistance for family violence victim survivors and people who use violence connects and supports activities across the family violence reform. For example:

  • the continued rollout of The Orange Door network will consider how legal assistance can be best embedded  
  • embedding a client-focused approach to developing the Specialist Family Violence Courts legal practice model
  • strengthening knowledge of legal responses across other workforces which intersect with family violence

Reform-wide priorities

Activities to increase access to legal assistance continue to be informed by our reform-wide priorities: intersectionality, lived experience and Aboriginal self-determination.

At-risk and vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected by inadequate access to legal assistance. Activities outlined below will assist in improving access and services.

Intersectionality

Victoria Legal Aid and Community Legal Centres around Victoria are continuing to adapt and provide nuanced support for the communities they service. For example:

  • Victoria Legal Aid is working with culturally specific services to identify the training and resources needed so their legal services are culturally safe environments.
  • Victoria Legal Aid provides free access to interpreter services and information about their services in more than 20 languages.
  • St Kilda Legal Service and Fitzroy Legal Service provide a free community legal service to assist LGBTIQ+ Victorians with their legal needs.
  • Senior Rights Victoria, funded by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing and Victorian Legal Aid provides a free, confidential helpline for advocacy and legal assistance.
  • Brimbank Melton Community Legal Centre runs the Vietnamese Lawyer Project in partnership with the Vietnamese Women’s Association to deliver legal assistance in the Vietnamese language

Intersectionality Overview

Aboriginal self-determination

Consistent with our commitment to Aboriginal self-determination, our legal assistance activities include Aboriginal-led, culturally appropriate options for Aboriginal Victorians.

    • initial investment of $11 million over four years in the 2017/18 State Budget
    • distributed equally between two Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and Djirra, to provide legal and support services to Aboriginal people experiencing family violence
  • Djirra logo

    Djirra supports Aboriginal people who are experiencing or have experienced family violence.

    Djirra provides legal services in a variety of locations around the state, based on their understanding of where the greatest needs are in the Aboriginal community.

    • Over the last four years, Djirra’s legal services have expanded to five locations across Victoria, with plans to open an additional access point in Geelong.
    • The Department of Justice and Community Safety has provided Djirra with a further $300,000 to expand their regional service delivery.

    In 2018-2019, Djirra’s Aboriginal Family Violence Legal Service:

    • helped 611 people with legal advice and representation
    • provided 2,410 legal assistance packages
    • provided financial assistance to people experiencing family violence through 164 flexible support packages
  • The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service funds specialised Family Violence Community Service Officers to provide advice about child welfare and family issues.

    Over the two years, 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service assisted 581 clients around Victoria.

  • Victoria Legal Aid is funding an Aboriginal Community Engagement Officer based at the Ballarat Specialist Family Violence Court. 

Aboriginal Self-Determination Overview

Lived experience

Embedding lived experience is a key feature of the legal practice model at specialist family violence courts and in the future design and delivery of legal assistance programs and services.

Victoria Legal Aid - client-centred approach to legal practice model

Victoria Legal Aid is working with clients, staff, community legal centres, Aboriginal legal services, the courts, police and family violence services to design and deliver the legal services at five of Victoria's specialist family violence courts.

Actions include:

  • exploring clients’ experience of family violence legal services in a court setting at two specialist family violence courts
  • developing client stories and journey maps through interviews and discussions with clients about their experience
  • holding workshops about the justice response with people with lived experience of family violence
  • facilitating one-on-one consultations with people with lived experience

This approach will help the specialist family violence courts to offer a more therapeutic model of justice that promotes safety and accountability, while giving people intensive and integrated support.

Lived Experience Overview

Measuring outcomes

Family Violence Outcomes Framework

Delivering the activities for this priority area will likely have the greatest impact in achieving outcomes against the following domains:

Domains 2, 3 and 4

Domain 2, Victim survivors, vulnerable children and families are safe and supported to recover and thrive. Domain 3, Perpetrators are held accountable, connected and take responsibility for stopping their violence. Domain 4, Preventing and responding to family violence is systemic and enduring.
Domains 2, 3 and 4
Download Domains 2, 3 and 4

Reviewed 19 April 2021

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