Media Release 20 July 2020

Media Release

 | For immediate release: Monday 20 July 2020

Andrews Government must reduce the number of people in prisons as part of response to COVID-19

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Media Release: A Constellation of Circumstances Report


New report shows why women’s remand numbers must stay down

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June News

As we reach the halfway point of a very challenging 2020, Fitzroy Legal Service welcomes recent confirmation of additional funding from the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments.  We acknowledge Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy and Commonwealth Attorney-General Christian Porter for their leadership.  This funding recognises that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on people’s lives and provides additional resources to meet the increased demand for our services.  We have also recently received support from the City of Yarra's Family Violence COVID-19 Quick Response Grants and the Inner North Community Foundation's COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants.  A huge thank you to all involved.

For an update on some of our work please keep reading below.

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MSIR announcement

The Federation of Community Legal Centres and Fitzroy Legal Service have welcomed both the recommendations put forward by the Medically Supervised Injecting Room Review Panel and the decisive action by the Victorian Government in accepting the recommendations.

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UPDATED 2 MAY: Supreme Court rules Victorian Government prima facie breached duty of care to person in prison in their response to COVID-19 pandemic

In an important decision, the Supreme Court of Victoria has found that the Victorian Government has prima facie breached their duty to take reasonable care for the health of a person behind bars during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The case, an urgent injunction brought by Fitzroy Legal Service and the Human Rights Law Centre, on behalf of a person in Port Phillip Prison with acute health needs, argued that people in prison are sitting ducks for COVID-19, and that it will only take one case to enter the prison for there to be an outbreak, which could not be stopped even if responsive measures are taken.

While the Court didn’t make any findings of fact given the case was heard as an interlocutory hearing, the Court did find that there was a prima facie case that the prison authorities breached their duty of care to safeguard the health of the person in prison, and that the Government must act compatibility with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights. 

Monique Hurley, Senior Lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre, said that this decision shows that the Victorian Government isn’t doing enough to safeguard people in prison against COVID-19.

“Everybody deserves to be safe during a pandemic. But prisons are overcrowded and have substandard hygiene practices at the best of times. Right now, they are a COVID-19 tinderbox. This case is an important win for the rights of people behind bars in Victoria who want what we all want - to be safe. Ultimately, the Victorian Government should be looking to responsibly release certain groups of people from prison. The evidence is clear - once COVID-19 enters a prison, it will spread like wildfire,” said Hurley.

Expert evidence was given during the case showing that if COVID-19 enters the prison, it will spread more quickly than in the community, like it has in other closed environments including cruise ships, migrant worker’s dormitories and nursing homes.

The Supreme Court heard that no risk assessment of Port Phillip Prison has taken place in relation to COVID-19. While the Court did not order the release of the client, the Court ordered that a risk assessment examining the COVID-19-related risks to people in prison be carried out at Port Phillip Prison, and that any recommendations made as a result of that assessment should be implemented.

The case paves a potential pathway for people at heightened risk of COVID-19 to argue for their release in future.

Karen Fletcher, Managing Lawyer, Fitzroy Legal Service said that the Victorian Government and private prison operators have a duty to protect the people in their prisons from this pandemic.

“It is not enough to have elaborate policies on paper, they must be implemented on the ground. There is an obligation under Victorian law and international human rights law to provide the same level of healthcare in prisons as available in the community. Our client’s evidence is that the reality is that this is not happening in prisons,” said Fletcher.

In addition to the court ordered risk assessment at Port Phillip Prison, the Andrews Government must now make COVID-19 testing available to all people in prison as part of the current testing “blitz” of people in Victoria.

The Human Rights Law Centre and the Fitzroy Legal Service are calling for all Australian governments to reduce the number of people trapped in prisons by:

  • Granting leave to those most at risk of COVID-19, including people with underlying health conditions, and working with those people to ensure they have safe accommodation;

  • Granting early release to people in prison who are close to the end of their sentence;

  • Granting parole to people in prison who have been convicted of low level offending and who pose a low risk to the community if released; and

  • Allowing people on remand – who are yet to be found guilty of any criminal offending – to more easily access bail.

This news item was updated Saturday 2 May at 9:00PM

Read: Human Rights Law Centre’s explainer on Prisons and COVID-19.

Read: Supreme Court ruling here.

Read: Summary of interlocutory hearing judgment in Mark Rowson v Department of Justice, Corrections Victoria and the State of Victoria [2020] VSC 236

Media contact:

Michelle Bennett, Communications Director, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519



Media Release - Covid-19 Supreme Court Challenge

The Fitzroy Legal Service and Human Rights Law Centre have filed a case in the Supreme Court of Victoria arguing that the Andrews Government must take steps to keep people in prison and the broader community safe from the risks posed by COVID-19. 

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Volunteer Survey April 2020

Hello to all our fabulous volunteers!

While we wait for the time when we can re-instate the service that you all help provide to the community, we would truly appreciate you taking the time to fill in our volunteer survey.

The responses will help with refining the volunteer program and giving us a snapshot of our volunteer base at the moment.

If you have any further questions about the survey, please don't hesitate to get in touch with our Volunteer Coordinator, Anna Caleo


April 2020 News

Whilst we have unfortunately had to close our physical offices, all Fitzroy Legal Service staff are working remotely and are here to help. Please call on (03) 9419 3744 or email

COVID19  has challenged us to think creatively and look at innovative ways to deliver vital services to clients at a time when they need us more than ever.  For an update on our work please keep reading below.

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Covid-19 Stay At Home Directions

In Victoria, the requirement to stay at home does not apply to someone who does not have an ordinary place of residence. 

This should mean that there is a homelessness exemption to the 'stay at home directions' and Victoria Police should not be issuing fines to the homeless community for being on the streets. 

BUT if you are homeless and have been offered a 'suitable' place to stay during COVID-19 then you can be fined for leaving that place without a valid reason. 

If you are experiencing homelessness and have received a fine or had contact with Victoria Police for breaching COVID-19 laws you can get help:

-If you live in Yarra or Darebin you can call us on (03) 9419 3744

-If you live somewhere else you can visit to make an online report or visit for help. 

The current Stay At Home Directions can be found here:

Volunteer Positions Available March 2020

Fitzroy Legal Service Inc. are currently looking for daytime volunteers:

Daytime Administration Assistant/s. Proficiency in answering phones and fielding inquiries.  Locations at both Fitzroy and Reservoir.



Candidates are requested to email the following as one PDF document:

  • A covering letter, no longer than one page;
  • A resume which includes details of education, work and volunteer experience.

Applications should be emailed to: Anna Caleo, Volunteer Coordinator