How we can help you at the NJC

We are a Community Legal Centre that helps provide a free, confidential, independent duty lawyer service at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre. This page explains some things you need to know about our service.


Free

Our service is free of charge. We try to assist as many people as possible, but sometimes we will prioritise more needy or vulnerable people. If you can afford a private lawyer, we can provide information on how to find one for your next court hearing.

Confidential

If you tell us something in confidence for the purpose of seeking legal advice, we won’t tell anyone about it unless you give us permission.

When we represent you in court, we will usually need to tell the court some things about you and your background, or when we refer you to specialist workers at court, we may need to give the worker some information about you and your case.

We may only disclose information without your permission where our ethical rules allow. This includes if we consider that disclosure is necessary to prevent the commission of a serious crime, or if we believe you may harm yourself or another person.

Independent

Our lawyers work at the court, but we don’t work for the court. We work for you and we strive to get you the best outcome from the court that we can. We work in collaboration with specialist workers at the NJC to help clients who need help with underlying problems like violence, drug use, mental health and homelessness.

We will ask your permission before referring you to one of these workers. You don’t have to engage with these specialist workers but it usually helps your legal case if you do so.

When you engage with specialist workers at the NJC, you may also be asked to share confidential information with them. Often, the worker will prepare a written report for the court. You should not tell the worker anything that you don’t want the court to know about. If you’re unsure, you can always ask your lawyer.

Duty lawyer service

Providing a ‘duty lawyer’ service means that we are often only able to offer a limited service. We act professionally and with integrity within the limits imposed by the demands on our service.

Depending on the nature of your matter, on the day we may be able to offer advice, help with negotiations with police or other parties, or in-court representation. If your matter doesn’t finish on that day, we may be able to take on your case on an ongoing basis. Your lawyer will explain what we are able to do for you on the day.

Keeping records

We are required by law to keep a record of the legal assistance provided to you and copies of your documents for 7 years after we finish helping you with a matter. We keep this record electronically and may destroy hard copy documents immediately, and we may delete the electronic record after 7 years.

When we have to stop helping you

As lawyers, we have to comply with legal rules that dictate when we may have to stop helping you. This includes if we discover that there is a conflict of interest; if you provide us with inadequate, conflicting or unmeritorious instructions; if you tell us to act unlawfully or against our professional responsibilities; if we try to contact you and you do not respond; or in certain other situations.

If we have to stop helping you, we will try to refer you to another legal practice, either at court on the day or elsewhere.

Complaints

If you aren’t happy with the service that is being provided to you, you can raise this with your lawyer or with the Principal Solicitor of Fitzroy Legal Service by calling 9419 3744.  

If you think we have acted unprofessionally, you have the right to make a formal complaint to the Legal Services Board + Commissioner by calling 1300 796 344 or visiting www.lsbc.vic.gov.au/consumers/complaints.


Questions and answers

How is the NJC different to other courts?

The Neighbourhood Justice Centre is a ‘therapeutic court’. That means that, for people who have problems that cause them to break the law, like drug use, mental illness, or homelessness, the court will try to help with those problems as part of the legal process.

There are also workers here who can help support people who have been subject to family violence, those who use violence, Aboriginal people, LGBTIQ people, and more.

Talk to your lawyer if you want to talk to a worker.

How is the court working during COVID-19?

Due to COVID-19 your case will be heard online (unless the court has specifically told you otherwise). This means that you do not need to attend onsite at the court building for your court hearing.

However, it is very important that you contact the court or a lawyer before your court date. More information is available on the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria website.

The court will tell you the time your case is to be heard online. You should be available to talk to your lawyer on the phone between 9am and 4pm on the day of your court hearing. Your lawyer may arrange for you to participate in your online hearing by phone or video conference, and/or appear on your behalf.

For more information about appearing in your court hearing via video conference (the Court is using a program called ‘Webex’), see the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria Webex User Guide and Fitzroy Legal Service’s Quick Guide to Using Webex.

Can I just get an adjournment?

If this is the first listing day of your criminal matter, we can usually arrange an adjournment without needing to go into court. We will want to discuss your case with you, plan the way the case will be handled, and possibly refer you to specialist workers before you leave.

In other cases, an adjournment can usually only be granted by going into court and asking the magistrate to adjourn the case. Adjournments are usually only granted if there are good reasons to adjourn. Your lawyer will discuss this with you.

Do I have to come back to court?

Most court matters take several court hearings before they are finalised. For criminal matters, if you don’t contact your lawyer or the court before your next court hearing you may have a warrant issued for your arrest. For other matters, your case might be struck out or finalised in your absence if you don’t attend.

If you are sick, or otherwise have good reasons why you can’t participate in your next court hearing, contact the registry on 9948 8600 or your lawyer.

I also need help with…

Our duty lawyers at the NJC can normally only assist you with the matter you are at court for today.

If you need advice about something else, our service operates a free drop-in legal advice service in most areas of the law at the Fitzroy Town Hall every weeknight from 6pm. No appointment needed for most matters. You can call 9419 3744 for more information.