The Fitzroy Legal Service is seeking a highly motivated individual with exceptional communication skills to coordinate our volunteer program.Read more
Authored by Meghan Joy Fitzgerald, Lawyer, Fitzroy Legal Service
Under the ‘emergency worker’ laws currently proposed, the Andrews government with bipartisan support will mandate imprisonment should a person injure a police officer, protective service worker or emergency health worker acting in performance of their duty. Under the laws ‘injury’ includes temporary pain or psychological suffering.Read more
It has been a busy few months at Fitzroy Legal Service. We’ve gotten involved with campaigns around mandatory sentencing and family law system reform, ran a community information forum on racism for Law Week and continued to deliver high quality legal services and education programs. We couldn’t do this without the dedication and hard work of our incredible staff and volunteers, and the support of our wider community – thank you.Read more
Wednesday 20 June 2018
Community organisations slam the Andrews Government’s proposed mandatory sentencing legislation
- Community and legal sector organisations are alarmed at the potential harm of the proposals outlined in the Justice Legislation Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2018 introduced into the Victorian Parliament today
- Mandatory sentencing does not work as a deterrent and will cause unnecessary harm to vulnerable members of the community and is unlikely to result in reduced assaults against emergency workers
- Forcing judges to impose jail sentences ignores the importance and significance of rehabilitation
- We call on all members of Parliament to reject the bill
There is significant concern about the Andrews Government’s mandatory sentencing legislation introduced into Parliament today. A lack of consultation with the community sector means little is known about the details contained in the proposed legislation. However we understand that the Justice Legislation Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2018, if passed, will force judges to send people to jail for six months or more for offences such as assaulting police. The legislation will remove some of the ‘special reasons’ which currently allow judges to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum for offences such as assaulting emergency workers and custodial workers. Such special reasons include if an offender is between 18 and 21 but has the psychosocial maturity of a child, which often occurs as the result of serious trauma or abuse.
Meghan Fitzgerald, Lawyer at Fitzroy Legal Service, said that it was astounding that the Andrews Government wanted to further restrict judges’ ability to deliver fair sentences. “From the 1970s until very recently Victoria had the lowest per capita adult prison population in Australia, but our prison numbers are now soaring, while crime rates are falling. Mandatory sentencing does not prevent crime. It sends people to jail who shouldn’t be there. We know that exposure to jail makes it more likely that a person will reoffend – so mandatory sentencing actually sets people on a path towards crime. Sentencing is an opportunity to divert that path – that’s what rehabilitation programs and community corrections orders do well. It provides an opportunity to set someone on the right path so they can contribute to the community.”
Ms Fitzgerald said the proposed laws are particularly disappointing as they undermine Labor’s work to address the underlying causes of offending and holistically tackle complex issues in our community, like family violence.
“Labor is governing by tabloid newspaper, rather than dealing with complex issues in our society. The government should properly fund programs that address the causes of offending and allow our judges to do their jobs. We call on all members of Parliament to seriously consider the significant ramifications to the Victorian community should this legislation be passed.”
Victorian Branch Chair of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), Associate Professor Richard Newton added: “It is embedded in the practice of law that a person’s mental state can impact on judgement, and therefore effect how they should be held responsible for their actions if they commit an offence. Violence is unacceptable at any time, but especially when people are doing their job of providing patient care. Psychiatrists and other mental health workers are also regularly subjected to violence in the provision of care. However, the RANZCP Victorian Branch would not support changes which do not take into account all the circumstances of the case when deciding what penalty to impose.”
“More than 50 years of psychological research shows that positive reinforcement strategies are more effective than punitive strategies to effect rehabilitation. The RANZCP Victorian Branch would encourage the Victorian Government to adopt strategies that support the long term protection of the community through rehabilitation of offenders, rather than introducing harsher punishments that we know do not reduce reoffending.”
In addition, Daniel Gurvich QC, Vice Chair of the Criminal Bar Association of Victoria has stated in consideration of the role of the judiciary, “some of our community are psychiatrically unwell or have the mental age of a child. Others have suffered extremely traumatic upbringings. As a civilized society, we would expect the Court to know about these things before imposing a sentence upon them. This does not mean they should not go to jail. It does mean that those considerations should be taken into account. That is only fair.”
Domestic Violence Victoria CEO Fiona McCormack stated “DV Vic supports legal provisions that hold perpetrators of family violence to account and provide greater safety for victims. Family violence can be extremely complex and courts must retain their ability to make decisions based on specific factors relevant to each individual case. The Royal Commission into Family Violence found that in incidents of children committing violence against their parents the criminalisation of young offenders can cause parents to disconnect from the justice system leaving them unprotected. The Royal Commission recommended that a therapeutic rather than criminal response in these cases.
Mandatory sentencing is also likely to deter other victims of family violence reporting partners, parents or family members if they are concerned about the social, emotional and financial ramifications of mandatory incarceration. Narrowing the scope of the special reasons provisions will further entrench barriers to reporting family violence and is contrary to the recommendations of the Royal Commission.”
Megan Pearce from the Darebin Community Legal Centre, added “We are very concerned that these laws will have a disproportionate impact on women, particularly victims of family violence and childhood trauma. Two Royal Commissions have shown us the life long effects of trauma and how it can impact people's behaviour. Many women who've suffered from abuse and violence will experience emergencies in which their friends, families and community supports cannot protect them or the broader community. Keeping emergency workers safe in these scenarios requires a skilled, multi-agency response, supported by comprehensive training, not more punitive sentencing laws.”
Claudia Fatone, Fitzroy Legal Service, M: 0403 234 156
Megan Pearce, Darebin Community Legal Centre, M: 0478 562 778
Jill Prior, Law & Advocacy Centre for Women, T: 03 9448 8930
About Fitzroy Legal Service
Established in 1972, Fitzroy Legal Service is the longest standing Community Legal Centre in Victoria providing legal advice, advocacy and education, and the only one that provides a free drop-in service, five nights a week, to all people.
Find out more at www.fitzroy-legal.org.au
Submission responding to proposed amendments mandating imprisonment where injuries are sustained by emergency workers
The Fitzroy Legal Service, along with nineteen partner agencies, has provided a submission to all members of the Victorian Parliament urging them to reconsider the proposed amendments mandating imprisonment where injuries are sustained by emergency workers.
Announcements by the Andrews government have been followed by an indication of in-principal bi-partisan support. We confirm that to our knowledge, there has been no consultation in relation to impacts of the proposed approach with the broader community. This includes community organisations who routinely rely on collaborative relationships with emergency workers to preserve life, ensure safety, facilitate treatment, and intervene in unsafe environments. As community sector organisations, we support community members, their family members, carers, and organisations (health, housing, charitable), many of whom frequently either rely upon and/or are supported by emergency workers. We believe our concerns and experiences should be considered. Many of us are also frontline workers with direct experience of many of the contexts in which these laws may operate.
We strongly support measures that promote the safety of emergency service workers. We note the category of emergency workers is broad, extending from police members who have specialist training to engage in physical confrontations, and ‘operational equipment’ (i.e. weapons) that may be used should conflict escalate causing risk of injury, to nurses and paramedics working in emergency departments, who may rely on the presence of security guards and attendance of police to ensure safety in their workplace.
We recognise ambulance workers are exposed to special risks as the contextual circumstances they are likely to face on each job are often largely unknown. Though requiring significant allocation of resources, we strongly support multi-service response approaches to ameliorate risk of injury or harm to workers where appropriate.
We support the expanded collaboration between police and ambulance workers (and other emergency workers) to minimise risk of harm to frontline workers. Such an approach requires allocation of resources, but it is vital that frontline emergency workers are able to do their jobs without undue risk of personal harm.
We support the presence of security guards in emergency departments. If additional resources are required to ensure the safety of patients and staff, those resources should be made available. We support continued promotions that make clear that assaults of health practitioners, ambulance staff, and other emergency workers will not be tolerated.
Traditionally emergency workers, community sector workers, and court services have worked collaboratively to try to advance and support those objectives. Please consider whether proposed amendments will operate to undermine those collaborations and the shared outcomes we are seeking to further as a community with responsibilities to our most vulnerable.
The submission can be viewed here.
Fitzroy Legal Service
Darebin Community Legal Centre
St Kilda Legal Service
Peninsula Community Legal Centre
Law & Advocacy Centre for Women
Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service
Moonee Valley Legal Service
Federation of Community Legal Centres
Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association
Aboriginal Catholic Ministry for Victoria
Eastern Community Legal Centre
Democracy in Colour
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service
Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre
Yarra Drug and Health Form
Mental Health Legal Centre
Women's Legal Service Victoria
Inner Melbourne Community Legal
Criminal Bar Association
Meghan Fitzgerald, Lawyer with Fitzroy Legal Service, spoke at a media conference this morning, Wednesday 4 April 2018, which called for a review of Victoria's police complaints system. Read the full statement below.Read more
In response to breaking news stories from people who have experienced excessive force, racist policing or other police misconduct, and tried unsuccessfully to make complaints, lawyers will call on the Victorian Government to overhaul Victoria Police’s failed complaints system.
Who: Jessie Scarlett-Rhodes – Victoria Police assault victim
Jeremy King, Jessie’s Lawyer, Robinson Gill
Tamar Hopkins - Founding lawyer of the Police Accountability Project, Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre
Meghan Fitzgerald – Manager of Social Action, Policy and Law Reform, Fitzroy Legal Service
Hugh de Kretser – Executive Director, Human Rights Law Centre
Date: Wednesday 4 April 2018
Location: On the steps of the Victorian Supreme Court, 210 William St, MelbourneRead more
The beginning of 2018 has seen us celebrate 45 years of Fitzroy Legal Service and 40 years of The Law Handbook. We launched the 2018 edition of this iconic plain language publication as well as supporting an open letter regarding the trial by Victoria Police of body worn cameras. Read more about our work and impact in our March 2018 quarterly enews.Read more
The Fitzroy Legal Service, along with 25 other organisations, has signed an open letter to Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton regarding the trial of body worm cameras by Victoria Police.
The letter outlines a series of crucial accountability and oversight measures that must be implemented if the program is to achieve the objectives of enhancing safety for both officers and community members, and increasing police transparency and public confidence.
The letter calls for:
1) clear and publicly available guidelines concerning data retention periods;
2) limits on discretionary use by officers and penalties for failure to activate;
3) breadth of access for victims, their lawyers and the public; and
4) rigorous evaluation prior to further expansion.
The full letter can be viewed here.