Quarterly News - October 2017

Welcome to our October e-news.   Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Fitzroy Legal Service.  Without the hundreds of individuals who give of their time and expertise each year, the Fitzroy Legal Service would be unable to provide the depth and breadth of services to our community that we are able to offer.    In our latest enews, we are proud to be able to profile two volunteers contributing in different ways, our continuing work assisting victims/survivors of family violence and an update on our litigation with Doctors for Refugees. 

Multidisciplinary and holistic approaches to supporting victims/survivors of family violence

Our staff continue to provide outreaches to North Richmond Community Health Centre, Fitzroy Learning Network and Drummond Street Services, focused on supporting victims/survivors of family violence.  Our staff based at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre are providing similarly critical services and achieving positive outcomes, as highlighted below:

Fitzroy Legal Service lawyers based at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre recently assisted a client from a culturally and linguistically diverse background, who was a victim and survivor of family violence.

This matter highlighted a positive development in the response by Victoria Police to family violence matters. In this case, Victoria Police had applied for an intervention order to protect the client due to family violence in the form of emotional abuse. The fact that Victoria Police had brought an application for an intervention order solely on the basis of emotional abuse, was an extremely positive development. Prior to the Royal Commission on Family Violence, such applications were rare and clients frequently raised concerns about members of Victoria Police downplaying the seriousness of emotional abuse.

In this matter, it was apparent that the respondent was trying to use legal processes to intimidate the victim. It also highlights the importance for a victim of having access to separate representation.   As the applicant for the intervention order in which our client was the victim, Victoria Police initially consulted the victim and advised Fitzroy Legal Service of the client’s consent to certain intervention order conditions (in particular an exception that would severely restrict the client’s ability to attend events within her social circle). Fitzroy Legal Service then consulted the client, linked the client with a Family Violence Service to seek support regarding safety matters and risk assessment and allowed the client to have time and space to consider her views. Following discussions regarding safety, risks and future contingencies, the client’s instructions changed dramatically. Fitzroy Legal Service negotiated a favourable resolution of the matter that prioritised the client’s safety and autonomy and ability to interact within her social circle.

This matter highlights the complexity of our work on family violence matters but also the unique nature of our expertise and the different outcomes that can be produced when we work with. and listen to, survivors of family violence

Doctors for Refugees

On 27 July 2016, the Fitzroy Legal Service filed a constitutional challenge in the High Court of Australia on behalf of Doctors for Refugees. The case tested whether secrecy laws in the Australian Border Force Act 2015 are an impermissible burden on the implied freedom of political communication. The case has been enabled through the generous support of barristers, lawyers from the commercial sector, Fitzroy Legal Service volunteers and GetUp. Doctors have been at the forefront of raising humanitarian concerns regarding conditions and treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and again express their resolve to advocate for patients and public health through commencing this litigation. 

In an important development, a determination exempting health professionals from the operation of the Act was published by the Australian Government on 30 September 2016.   Whilst the Fitzroy Legal Service welcomed this development, workers with similar ethical duties are still gagged, such as teachers, social workers, and humanitarian aid workers, were still gagged from speaking out.

In early August 2017, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, introduced an amendment to the act that keeps the secrecy provisions, but changes what kind of information cannot be released. The changes, which will apply retrospectively, mean that only some information, such as that which would prejudice security, defence or international relations or the investigation of offences, must remain secret.   Minister Dutton cited ‘changed conditions’ as a reason for the amendment, but noted that the Bill would ensure the Act did not infringe on freedom of political communication.

Fitzroy Legal Service lawyer Meghan Fitzgerald has been instrumental in this proceeding.  “Freedom of political communication remains a central tenant of our democracy, and Australians have a right to access the truth about our Governments’ policies and actions in the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

Volunteer Profile – Henrietta de Crespigny

An adventurer who has cycled the world, Henrietta de Crespigny brings her passion for human rights and environmental justice to Fitzroy Legal Service.

As a volunteer paralegal, with stints of travel in between, Henrietta de Crespigny has worked at Fitzroy Legal Service on a variety of projects to enrich her experience since she started in 2014.This has included research into legislation and case law, updating Fitzroy Legal Service’s Conflict of Interest Policy, letter writing on behalf of clients and assisting lawyers with counsel briefs. For her, working in a community legal centre such as Fitzroy Legal Service has been an important step in her career as a lawyer, building on her previous experience working in Aboriginal Legal Aid as well as her work at the Castan Center for Human Rights Law.

She feels well supported as a volunteer. “The lawyers are always helpful and have time to explain things to me. I’m always learning something new.”

A highlight of her experience has been interacting with clients face-to-face. She remembers the first time she visited a severely disabled client with Galit Aflalo, Acting-Senior Community Lawyer, in relation to a fraud case. The experience reminded her of why she chose law and why community legal centres such as Fitzroy Legal Service are so important in representing often vulnerable people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“I think as a society, we must have access to justice for all citizens, especially in a country where legal assistance is otherwise expensive for individuals who can’t afford to pay for private legal services.”

At fifteen, Henrietta decided to make law her chosen career when she became aware of stories of human rights abuses and how often it was linked to environmental degradation. This led to a double degree in Arts/Law at Monash University. “I remember thinking the best way to make a difference was to learn about the law. The more I learnt, the more I began to realise the huge social impacts from a lack of access to justice.”

Henrietta has seen first hand the plight of the vulnerable who work under terrible conditions. Straight after graduating from university in June 2015, she and her partner took off overseas taking  their bicycles with them to India with the idea of riding as far west and they could get. They rode through war-torn regions, starting on the Silk Road and at one point stayed in Iran for three months. There they met a young Iranian man who became their regular hotline for translations.

“We would call him and he was always so helpful, so generous that I ended up giving him my bicycle because he wanted to start cycling himself. But because of the sanctions in Iran you couldn’t just buy a good western bike.”

When her grandmother, who lives in England, heard what her granddaughter did, she bought Henrietta a brand new bike. It was at this point that Henrietta and her partner decided to end their cross-continent, year-long, 16, 861 km bike trip by cycling to England to personally thank her grandmother.

On her return to Australia in 2016, she resumed her volunteer work at Fitzroy Legal Service while embarking on further studies with the Practical Legal Training Graduate diploma at the College of Law. In her spare time, she is usually outdoors rock climbing, hiking or cycling to get in touch with nature.  

For the future she sees herself working in the community legal sector. Whether it’s a remote community or working in disadvantaged communities, she has found these areas appeal to her sense of social justice and her passion for human rights and environmental justice.

“I feel a deep sense of obligation to help those that are less fortunate than me. I have lived a privileged life in many regards and that’s what drives me to work in this sector.”

Peter Lynch, The Law handbook Contributor

Peter Lynch is a solicitor who has been practising in Victoria since 1978. He’s specialised in both Criminal Law and Family Law. Peter has been involved with Fitzroy Legal Service for over thirty-five years and he’s worked with the service in two capacities. Firstly, Peter worked as a volunteer lawyer from 1978 to 1984 and then again from 2012 to the present. Secondly, he’s been an annual contributor to The Law Handbook since 1981. Peter has also achieved the impressive feat of surviving as a sole practitioner since 1990.

Peter grew up in Ballarat and studied law at Melbourne University. One aspect of working with the law that Peter finds enjoyable is that it’s a profession focused on problem solving, and has the rewarding nature of trying to resolve a client’s problems. Peter has worked for many years as a specialist in Criminal Law and Family Law, though recently he’s been doing more Family Law. Over the last four years, he has once again been a volunteer with Fitzroy Legal Service. When asked what brought him back to volunteer again, he said, ‘There was an enormous number of people that were unrepresented in the Family Courts and in need of some advice, and Fitzroy Legal Service provides that on a weekly basis.’

Peter has been an annual contributor to The Law Handbook since 1981, providing the chapters ‘Sentencing in the Magistrates’ Court’ and ‘Driving Offences’. In addition to being useful for members of the general public, Peter says that The Law Handbook is also a valuable resource for law practitioners. When he finds himself being asked about a subject outside of his area, he also finds himself grabbing The Law Handbook as a handy reference. ‘It’s pretty well up-to-date,’ he says, ‘and written in a way that you can understand.’ Peter also believes the fact that it’s a popular resource that can be used by professionals really shows the effort that Fitzroy Legal Service and the contributors put into its creation.

Peter has been with Fitzroy Legal Service for a long time. He’s watched it come full circle from its days in the basement of the Fitzroy Town Hall in the 70s, to its Johnston Street location and now back to Level 4 of the Fitzroy Town Hall. His long history with Fitzroy Legal Service is explained by his value of community legal centres and the service they provide. Working as a volunteer lawyer is an important part of a person’s practise. For young lawyers, it’s a valuable way help them find their direction in the law. For older lawyers, it can also be a good way to use the extra time that they might have now that they may not have had mid-career. Most importantly, the availability of volunteer lawyers makes all the difference to those who fall between the people that Legal Aid can provide for and those who can afford to pay for lawyers. ‘There’s a whole mass of people in between who don’t have access to legal and law services, nothing like a community legal centre can offer then,’ he says, ‘So I think it’s a very important service provided by the volunteer lawyers.’

Outside of work, it’s hard to get away for a holiday when you’re a sole practitioner, but Peter is aiming to make time next year. He’s hoping to travel overseas to Europe, though it’s hard to set plans in stone. Peter’s time away from practising law is still hectic; he has four children that do a great job of keeping him and his wife busy!

Leadership opportunity - Principal Solicitor, Fitzroy Legal Service

Our Principal Solicitor Jen Black will be taking 12 months maternity leave, starting from December.  We are recruiting for a Principal Solicitor, with relevant information available here.   Applications close 5pm Friday 20th October 2017.  This is a fantastic opportunity to lead an incredibly talented and dedicated team.

The Law Handbook reduced

You can now purchase the 2016 and 2017 Law Handbook at discounted prices! The 2017 edition is available at $50 (plus P&H) with the 2016 edition reduced to $25 (plus P&H).

Grab your copy of The Law Handbook from our online store. A practical guide to the law in Victoria, it has been updated by over 80 legal experts. It provides free, comprehensive information about the laws that affect Victorians in everyday life.

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