Policy and Law Reform
Fitzroy Legal Service submits policy and law reform submissions as part of its efforts to represent the concerns of its clients and to promote social justice for the wider community. FLS submissions are available to the public and can be accessed by clicking on the links below.
Anti-Social Behaviour Pilot offends the Charter of Human Rights
Fitzroy Legal Service has prepared a submission on behalf of public housing tenants and the Victorian Mental Illeness Awareness Council in response to the Department of Human Services' 'Anti-social Behaviour Initiatives' working document. Fitzroy Legal Service argues the Anti-Social Behaviour Pilot (ASBP) undermines human rights to life, privacy and protection of family, and may have unintended negative impacts on people with disabilities and victims of domestic violence. In its current format the ASBP undermines the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised to safe and secure housing. Fitzroy Legal Service calls for the ASBP to be modified to preserve the rights of tenants living in public housing.
Inquiry into the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities
Fitzroy Legal Service’s submission to the Inquiry into the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities argues for the continuation and expansion of the Charter.
Public Health approaches to communtiy safety measures - a submission to Yarra Council
This submission considers implementation of CCTV and/or a Safe Injecting Facilty in Yarra and the systemic impacts of such a decisiont to allocate resources towards law and order measurees rather than taking a public health approach to community safety measures.
Forced and Serville Marriages
Fitzroy Legal Service in collaboration with Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence, and Project Respect prepared a submission commenting on the Discussion Paper released by the Criminal Division of the Attorney General on Forced and Servile Marriage.
Using a series of case studies this submission examines the concepts of forced and servile marriage. The submission argues the Attorney-Generals paper takes a narrow view of servile marriage and recommends that the definition of servile marriage be extended to expressly include “servile marriages and intimate relationships.” The submission argues that if proposed legislation only refers to married relationships, then many cases of servile marriages or relationships will continue unchecked.
Slavery and People Trafficking
Project Respect and Fitzroy Legal Service welcomethe opportunity to comment on the Discussion Paper released by the Criminal Division of the Attorney General on the Criminal Justice Response to Slavery and People Trafficking; Reparation; and Vulnerable Witness Protections.
Project Respect and Fitzroy Legal Service have worked together on a range of cases involving victims who have been trafficked to Australia and forced into prostitution. In light of this experience, the submission focuses on the questions raised in the discussion paper, and makes recommendations that are relevant to trafficking into sexual servitude.
Criminal Record Discrimination - Seeking better protections for Victorians
Fitzroy Legal Service supports changes to Victorian laws that better protect the right to work of persons with a criminal record. No protection currently exists under Victorian equal opportunity laws in relation to criminal record discrimination.
In 2007, the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) found that bail laws did not apply equally to all people. The VLRC report recommended a rewriting of the Bail Act 1977. This would simplify the language of the Act and define the powers of police, bail justices and courts in relation to granting bail and any bail conditions. The report also called for training of bail justices about the special needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable people.
FLS wrote the Department of Justice in support of most recommendations made by the VLRC report but remained opposed to the system of bail justices in Victoria.
Victims of Crime
In 2010 the Department of Justice began reviewing the Victims of Crime Compensation scheme, including sentencing orders and compensation awards. FLS made a submission to the review.
FLS made a number of recommendations including, Magistrates should have specialised training to hear Victims of Crimes Assistance Tribunal (VoCAT) matters; and, legal fees for VoCAT matters be raised to increase the number of available lawyers. FLS also recommended extending the availability of financial compensation to victims of sexual violence prior to 1997.
The review is ongoing.
Briefing Paper - Severe Substance Dependence Treatment Bill
In 2009 FLS collaborated with other community legal centres to make a submission to the Victorian parliament about the Severe Substance Dependence Treatment Bill.
FLS argues this Bill extends the power of involuntary detention of those people with drug and alcohol dependence. FLS argued for more definition of the mechanisms which give rise to the Magistrates' Court's power to order detention. FLS also raised concerns about whether the Bill safeguards basic human rights.
In 2009, FLS made a submission to a Parliamentary Inquiry investigating the trafficking of people for sex work in Victoria.
FLS points out that most victims of sex trafficking are reluctant to report their experience to Police. FLS believes this may preclude victims from eligibility for financial compensation. We argue that the victims' compensation tribunal (VoCAT) should be able to accept reports from specialised agencies dealing with sexual violence or trafficking as evidence that trafficking occurred.
The report of the Inquiry's findings is expected June 2010.
'Spent convictions' are schemes which erase certain convictions on an individual's criminal record after a specified time period has lapsed. The laws around spent convictions are state-specific and can be a significant barrier to employment. Victoria lags behind the other states in this area. In 2008, the Federal Government proposed a Bill to create a uniform scheme for spent convictions across all states.
In 2009 FLS made a submission arguing the proposed uniform scheme needed to go further. FLS argued the Bill needed to strongly state the amount and relevance of information released to prospective employers requesting the check. FLS also called for clarity as to how the uniform scheme would interact with existing schemes in the states.
City of Yarra
FLS wrote to the City of Yarra in September 2009 opposing the proposed law to ban the consumption of alcohol in the streets of Yarra. FLS argued the proposed law gave an anti-poverty, not anti-alcohol message. For example, homeless residents of Yarra who consumed alcohol would be in breach of the proposed law because of their social disadvantage. Further, harm minimization or crime prevention research did not evidence that the proposed law would improve social outcomes.
Ultimately, the City of Yarra passed the law with effect from 1 December 2009, banning the public consumption of alcohol at all times.
Surveillance in public places
In 2009, the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) began an inquiry into surveillance in public places with a view to improving the relevant laws. FLS argued that surveillance technology has significant limitations as a tool to enhance safety within the community. FLS supported the development of laws to regulate surveillance practices which were weighed against human rights such as the right to use public space.
The VLRC has not yet published its final report into this project.
Public offences and increased powers to the Police
The Victorian Government proposed to introduce the Summary Offences and Control of Weapons Acts Amendment Bill 2009. The amendments will give police increased powers to intervene and diffuse situations that may interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of public places. The introduction of these amendments was linked to increased public space offences in the central business district and other entertainment precincts.
FLS argues that the terms of the powers and offences proposed are too broad and give the police discretionary powers that can be applied arbitrarily. FLS argues this may encourage discriminatory profiling, unjustly impact upon people who are vulnerable and increase the chances of punitive interference by the police.
FLS concludes the Bill offends Human Rights Charter, and will negatively impact upon the well-being and tolerance in the community.
Equal Opportunity Act submission
In 2008, FLS made a submission about the proposed changes to the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 (the Act) to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission. FLS argued that the Act did not adequately equip the Commission to prevent discrimination across the whole of society or against individuals. FLS was supportive of the expansion of the Commission's powers to initiate actions even where there had been no complaint. FLS suggested that the conciliation function of the Commission would be better positioned with a third specialist dispute resolution agency.
The amended legislation is currently being debated in the Victorian Parliament.
Vexatious litigants are people identified by the courts as repeatedly bringing matters without merit to court and they are then 'barred' from bringing further matters to Court. In 2008, the Victorian Parliament began an inquiry to improve the way Victorian courts were dealing with vexatious litigants. FLS made a submission which argued that the reforms should be broadly focused on improving access for individuals to representation in court, rather than narrowly focused on vexatious litigants.
In 2007 the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) began a review of the laws which made abortions a criminal offence in Victoria. FLS made a submission recommending that abortion should no longer be a criminal offence. FLS argued that all people should be able to equally access health care and this was only achieved where women and their doctors could legally access and perform abortions.
Ultimately, the VLRC recommendation to decriminalise abortion was accepted by the Victorian parliament which legislated for the necessary changes to the Crimes Act 1958 in 2008.
In 2007, FLS wrote to the Sentencing Advisory Council (SAC) about suspended sentences. Suspended sentences involve an offender being sentenced to prison but by not committing another offence during the term of the 'sentence', they do not have to serve a time in prison. Sometimes suspended sentences have other conditions attached, such as a community based treatment orders.
In 2008 the SAC recommended that suspended sentences should continue to be available but needed reform, especially in relation to suspended sentences with conditions.
FLS agreed with the continued availability of suspended sentences and most other recommendations of Part II of the report. FLS queried whether allowing 'special conditions' to be imposed on Intensive Correction Orders would be in breach of Victoria's Charter of Human Rights.