Quarterly News – June 2016

2016 continues to be a busy year for the Fitzroy Legal Service with our upcoming relocation, community engagement, fundraising activities and continued commitment to high quality advocacy and support to our clients.

Message from the Chair of the Board

Fitzroy Legal Service to return to its roots

We are thrilled to announce that we are moving back to our first ‘home’ – the Fitzroy Town Hall.

On the 18 December 1972, the Fitzroy Legal Service opened its doors in the then extremely modest basement of the Fitzroy Town Hall. That night there were two clients. Three nights later that had grown to 40. Since then a lot has changed – times have changed, Fitzroy itself has changed, and the night service has changed – but what remains unchanged is our commitment to accessible justice and law reform. The City of Yarra shares this passion.

The return to the recently restored and renovated 1873 Classical Design heritage listed Town Hall in Napier Street Fitzroy signals a new era for the Fitzroy Legal Service. Situated only a short distance from our existing office and easily reached by trams 11 and 86, it will provide a much more pleasant, efficient and effective working environment for both staff and volunteers. Better yet, we will be able to provide a better environment for our clients and space for expansion.

In addition to our rented space, we will have access to other facilities within the Town Hall including the former council chambers. The City of Yarra (and its predecessor) has actively supported the launch of the Fitzroy Legal Service and have paid testament to the vital work of the organisation in providing accessible justice to its residents and those who reside beyond its borders. The City of Yarra is a significant partner of Fitzroy Legal Service and is just as as excited as we are at our return.

The time-frame for the relocation is currently being confirmed, however the physical shift will most likely occur sometime after mid-July. Opportunity for orientation of the new premises will be provided to members and volunteers at a time to be announced.

We hope you come to visit us in our new home!

Fitzroy Darebin Project Progress Report

Members and volunteers have been previously advised of the Fitzroy Legal Service and Darebin Community Legal Centre project, the central aim being to review the effectiveness of current organisational arrangements of each organisation and to explore new, innovative structures/models to deliver community legal services that fulfil the mission of providing a holistic and accessible approach to justice.

The decision of the two organisations to engage in exploratory discussions was driven by the need to position an organisational model within a strategic framework that took into account:

  • an interest in responding to community legal need especially within disadvantaged communities and clients with more complex support needs;
  • changing expectations and requirements of governments and funders in relation to how legal assistance to communities is planned, targeted and delivered;
  • funding uncertainty;
  • a want for stronger organisational arrangements which include the ability to provide better conditions for recruiting and retaining quality staff;
  • increasing administrative and compliance costs for relatively small organisations; and
  • the need for more sophisticated governance, management, planning and evaluation capability in contemporary community-based organisations.

To better appreciate the environment and needs, consultant Cathy Whelan and members of the Project Steering Committee have consulted widely with community stakeholders and looked at how other community legal centres have approached developing an effective model including those making effective use of new technology to provide accessible justice and those working within a holistic model where legal problems are seen as only one aspect of problems faced by clients.

Arising from that consultation, the Project Steering Committee has reached the point where two strategic direction based models will be developed for consideration within the committee; the first, how Fitzroy Legal Service and Darebin Community Legal Centre might better share resources and co-operate; the second, coming together as a single organisation providing services across the two communities. As part of the process a third potential partner providing specialised legal advice has been identified.

The Project Steering Committee will develop its preferred model and the structure of that model before making a recommendation to both Boards for their consideration. During this phase, opportunity will be provided for members to participate in discussion about the proposals. Any structural change will require the approval of both Boards.

Bruce McBain, Chair of the Board

Law Week 2016

In collaboration with the Neighbourhood Justice Centre, Fitzroy Legal Service conducted community afternoon tea stalls at the Fitzroy and Collingwood Public Housing Estates. These Law Week activities provided us with an opportunity to speak to residents in an informal way, and to engage with the community more broadly.

During Law Week, we also supported three performances of Othello on Trial at La Mama Courthouse Theatre, May 15, 16 and 17. Othello on Trial is a participatory theatre project aiming to engage young people in the cultural shift needed to elevate fatal violence against women into the national consciousness and educating them about the key role played by law and law reform in that process. It utilises Shakespeare’s famous play about a jealous wife-killer to dramatise the problem of intimate partner femicide in Australia today where, on average, one woman is killed by a male partner or former partner every week. That statistic rose to nearly two women a week by the end of 2015, bringing this issue to crisis point and making this project all the more urgent.

The script for the performances was developed by Adrian Howe, and was based on a script used for previous performances of the play in Melbourne (March 2015) and London (December 2015). The venue, which holds approximately seventy, was filled to capacity on two nights and almost completely filled on the third. We acknowledge the funding support of the Victoria Law Foundation and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

Fitzroy Social Club

Given the whole restaurant to ourselves, we hosted a dinner at Easy Tiger in Smith Street, Collingwood, in mid-April. Guests enjoyed a delicious three course meal prepared by celebrated chef Jarrod Hudson and had the option to participate in a silent auction. A big thank you to both Jarrod and co-owner and host Simon Kingsley for their generosity.

To date, the Fitzroy Social Club has raised close to $7,000 for the year with plans for further events in late July and August. Our volunteers are at the Napier Hotel every Friday night selling raffle tickets for the Fitzroy Legal Service. If you’re in the area, pop in for a delicious meal, a cold beer and the chance to win a prize!

If you’re interested in partnering with the Fitzroy Social Club, please contact the team at fsc@fitzroy-legal.org.au.

If you want to know more about our upcoming events, please like us on our Fitzroy Social Club Facebook page here or you can read more about us here.

Bunnings Sausage Sizzle

On Saturday 23 April, we conducted a sausage sizzle at Bunnings Collingwood to engage with our community and raise some much needed funds. Thanks to staff members Ela Stewart, Adam Wilson and Tori Diamond, our wonderful volunteers and the lawyers from Clayton Utz who attended. Approximately $800 was raised.

End of financial year appeal

We assist thousands of Victorians every year. As we continue our work in empowering those in our community who need us the most, please consider showing your support by making a donation. All donations over $2 are tax deductible.

Volunteer Profile: Michael Clothier, The Law Handbook Contributor

Michael Clothier, long-time contributor to The Law Handbook, has had a long and interesting career. As he starts to wind back the hours he spends in the office, he takes some time to reflect on his career highlights.

In 1977, Michael ran his first and last jury trial. He was a very young solicitor representing a man who had been charged with causing death by culpable negligent driving. The man had finished his shift in the mines and was driving himself and his best friend home for the night. While driving, the man had polished off a bottle of whiskey and at some point he had veered off the road, crashing the car and killing his friend. Despite the drinking, Michael was able to persuade the Darwin jury that a buffalo might have wandered onto the road (his client suffered amnesia associated with head injuries). In the end, the jury wasn’t convinced beyond reasonable doubt that a buffalo hadn’t wandered onto the road and caused the accident and allowed the defendant to go free. After picking himself up from the courtroom floor, Michael decided he had reached the limits of his very average abilities as a jury lawyer and decided, for the sake of future clients, that he would no longer conduct jury trials and would in future brief a barrister.

Apart from enjoying a 100% success rate in front of juries, the other stand out moment for Michael was in 1985 when he and his legal aid team won a case in the High Court (Kioa v West (1985) 159 CLR 550; link) allowing a Tongan immigrant and his wife to remain in Australia with their Australian born daughter. It is still the leading case on the limits of natural justice and procedural fairness required of government decision makers.

Immigration law was something Michael accidentally fell into rather than consciously choosing it as a specialisation. In the late 1970’s he began work with the Australian Legal Aid Office which was a Federal funded body and was mainly concerned with federal law such as family law, repatriation law, social security law and immigration law. This was back in the days when there was a Federal Legal Aid office and a State Legal Aid office. As the area of immigration law grew, so did the work that Michael took on. Very few lawyers were practising immigration law at that time and so he just became the person with the most knowledge and experience. He eventually ended up grandfathering the Law Institute Specialist Accreditation in Immigration law and spent many years helping to examine other lawyers who wanted to be accredited specialists in the area. ‘I was able to avoid having to do the exam myself for seventeen years by volunteering to set it’ he jokes.

It was a natural choice then for Michael to write the Immigration Law chapters in The Law Handbook, a job that Michael has continued doing for over 30 years.

‘I was writing law for non-lawyers and I enjoyed doing that because every year I was trying to put into real language all the changes that had occurred during the year.’ Michael liked to pretend that people used The Law Handbook like they used to use the Encyclopedia Britannica, to resolve arguments over the dinner table. But the reality is that the book is a useful tool for people to find an overview about any legal topic.

Currently, Michael works in his own practice with law partner Karyn Anderson. Although this year, he’s dropped down to three days a week in an effort to ease into retirement. With his extra two days off, Michael has built himself a boat. He loves to work with his hands, building the (very) odd extension to the house when he can. The boat, unfortunately, hasn’t managed to stay in one piece. Every time he takes it out, it breaks. He has even had it blessed with holy water by an inebriated priest whom he invited to dinner. ‘They say you always build your best boat second,’ he jokes, ‘it’s a boat built by a lawyer.’

With his spare time Michael intends to keep building and hopes to travel a bit more, enjoying the ocean and drinking some wine. He’d like to remain practising long enough to move his eldest daughter’s admission. She’s currently in her final year of an Arts/Law degree at Monash University.

The Law Handbook 2016 e-book

The Law Handbook 2016 e-book is now available on our website. Click here to purchase your copy today! You can also now purchase individual chapters of The Law Handbook 2016 from the Fitzroy Legal Service website.