Quarterly News – October 2016

Welcome to the October 2016 quarterly news. In the second half of 2016, Fitzroy Legal Service hasn’t slowed down, even during the hectic act of relocating. We are now officially at our new location at the Fitzroy Town Hall, a fantastic environment in which to continue to provide quality support to our clients.

Fitzroy Legal Service Updates

It’s been a busy year for Fitzroy Legal Service, with many exciting changes. After all of the planning and packing, we’re thrilled to be settling in at Fitzroy Town Hall. News of our move was recently featured in an article in the local community news publication, The Northsider.

In staff news, Jen Black has been appointed Principal Solicitor and will commence in that role upon her return from maternity leave in early October. We thank Serge Sztrajt for his outstanding leadership whilst Acting Principal Solicitor for the past 6 months.

Eritrean Community Information Forum

As part of our ongoing relationship with the Eritrean Community, Fitzroy Legal Service will be facilitating ongoing legal education community forums. The first of these was held on 20 August at the North Melbourne Community Hall, with assistance from our colleagues at Inner Melbourne Legal Service and Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre. The session was on the anti-terror legislation and approximately 60 community members attended the forum. Speakers included:

  • Associate Professor Patrick Emerton, Monash University
  • Sarah Condon, Stary Norton Halphen Criminal Lawyers
  • John V. O’Sullivan, Barrister

The panel discussed a range of issues related to the anti-terror laws, including the legislation itself, ASIO, AFP and Victoria Police powers, and where to go for legal assistance. There was some focus on the breadth of the laws, including issues around financial aid, supporting organisations that are on the government’s prescribed terrorism list, and travel restrictions as part of the legislation. A very engaging Q & A session followed and then a meal was shared together with the Eritrean community, CLC staff and the speakers.

The next session is being held on family violence.

Eritrean Community Forum on Anti-Terror Legislation

Fitzroy Social Club

In August the Fitzroy Social Club held an event, The Queer Women of Comedy Night. The night was a roaring success and tickets completely sold out! The venue was amazing and a big thanks goes out to Hares and Hyenas for supporting the event.

We’d also like to congratulate the comedians who gave us all a memorable experience and a good laugh. Our thanks to Geraldine Hickey, Kirsty Webeck, Sharon Andrews, Daisy Berry, Kimberley Lisle, Tessa Ryan and Alex Ward for a fantastic evening!

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 our Fitzroy Social Club Facebook page or you can read more about us on the Fitzroy Social Club webpage.

Family law support critical in supporting a young mother escaping family violence

Lucy* came to Australia with her Australian husband and young child and another baby on the way. She lived in rural Australia and moved often with her husband’s work. She spoke little English and didn’t know how to get help to escape the family violence being committed by her husband. Lucy found her way to Melbourne but then faced multiple legal issues including family law proceedings. Lucy found help at InTouch Multicultural Centre against Family Violence who referred her to Fitzroy Legal Service for representation for her family law matter. Lucy has come up against many hurdles negotiating legal systems in Australia but Fitzroy Legal Service has been able to put the time and resources into her matter and assist her to achieve a fair outcome.

(*not her real name)

National Association of CLCs Conference – ‘Innovation and Collaboration for better justice outcomes’

Three Fitzroy Legal Service staff attended and presented at the National Association of CLCs conference held in Fremantle, WA, in August. Our Community Development Officer, Ela Stewart, Senior Lawyer & Night Service Manager, Adrian Snodgrass, and Trainee Lawyer, Melissa Chen, were involved in presenting during two sessions:

1) Family violence resources for culturally and linguistically diverse men: this presentation explored the strengths and challenges of one of Fitzroy Legal Service’s current projects, which is funded by the City of Yarra and aims to educate men from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, about family violence laws.

2) Collaborative programs and CLC funding: challenges and opportunities: this session focused on responses to continued funding cutbacks and funding uncertainty for CLCs, focusing on Fitzroy Legal Service and WEstjustice’s collaboration on ‘targeted’ programs. The presentation explored issues associated with these programs, including: how does the concept of a ‘targeted’ program supplement, overlap, conflict with or enhance the core business of CLCs? How can these ‘one-off’ funded programs become more sustainable?

Volunteer Profile: Renata Alexander, The Law Handbook Contributor

Dr Renata Alexander is an experienced barrister and an academic with an impressive list of accomplishments. She is one of the longest serving legal service volunteers in Victoria, having been involved with community legal centres for over forty years – ever since her fourth year as a law student in 1976. She has been recognised for her efforts and was awarded PILCH’s Community Legal Centre Award in 2000 and the Centenary Medal in 2001, which recognises citizens who have contributed to Australian society or government. When asked what she considered her career highlights, she reflects that her time spent with Legal Aid was something she had dreamed of. Renata is also proud of her academic success. While practising law, she also managed to continue her post-graduate studies focusing on family violence, women’s issues and gender bias in family law. Her long history of work and expertise in family law is what led to her being approached to contribute to The Law Handbook on the topic of family violence.

Renata studied Arts/Law at Monash University, stemming from a desire to help people and a little influence from Perry Mason, a fictional criminal defence lawyer. Although she was initially attracted to studying math at university, she soon discovered that studying law was far more intriguing, sharing a similar framework. ‘It’s all about problem solving and reaching solutions,’ she says.

Her specialisation in family law was the result of a natural progression. Her interest was first piqued after taking on a university elective that dealt with this area of law. Then she got to see her principal – whose specialisation was entertainment law and family law – in action. After going to court with him and hearing him interview, she had a bit more of a feel for it. At the end of her fourth year, when she began volunteering at St Kilda Legal Service, it built on her earlier interest, with around a third of her work for the service revolving around family law. At the end of her education, she jumped straight into practising law.

Despite taking on practical work, Renata’s interest and enjoyment in learning meant that she also continued on the academic pathway, completing both her Masters and her PhD. Since 2001, Renata has also enjoyed her role as a teacher at Monash University. One of the appeals of teaching is that it allows her to draw on both her theoretical and real-world experience; she really enjoys being able to teach students the theory while demonstrating the practical applications with real stories from her own time spent in practise.

One of the reasons that Renata supports the publication of The Law Handbook is due to her strong belief that the law should be accessible to all. ‘I mean, law books are hard enough for law students and lawyers,’ she says, ‘but instead of relying on Women’s Weekly or New Idea, it’s just a very useful resource.’ One aspect that makes this publication such a valuable tool is that it gives good, simple summaries that anyone can read.

Aside from Renata’s contribution to The Law Handbook, a number of her articles have been published since 1997. These range across a number of mediums, including having articles in academic and legal journals, the newspaper, resource centre publications, and educational books.

As an educator, Renata’s areas of specialisation are family law, family violence and child abuse, as well as in clinical legal education. Given that she teaches what she has practised, she has a lot of experience in these areas. Understandably, practising family law can be tough and emotionally draining. It’s an area of law in which you often take feelings home with you and Renata commented, ‘My down-time is pretty much anything that serves as therapy to balance that out.’

In order to maintain a good work-life balance, Renata has a number of hobbies and interests. She currently has two collections that occupy her time. The first is a collection of Russian nesting dolls (or babushka dolls), which she collects from around the world when she travels, as well as from a store in Sydney. Her second collection is something a bit unique; she collects distinctive and unusual pantyhose – though it’s only become a collection because she still has more in their packets than she has open! Like many of us, she also indulges in some TV watching, regularly tuning in to programs like MasterChef, The Good Wife or Grey’s Anatomy to get a good dose of relaxation.

Dr Renata Alexander

The Law Handbook

The Law Handbook 2016 can be purchased as both a hardcopy and an eBook. It is available from Fitzroy Legal Service’s online store. You can now also purchase individual chapters of The Law Handbook 2016 at our online store. The Law Handbook 2017 will be released in mid-November, so don’t forget to keep a lookout!