Quarterly news – December 2015

A busy and challenging 2015

As the 2015 year draws to a close and we reflect on our work, we would like to acknowledge the many organisations and individuals who support our work. We have helped over 3,700 individuals through direct legal assistance services in 2015 with many others attending our community legal education programs.

We could not possibly undertake the breadth and depth of work that we do without significant pro bono and volunteer support. We rely heavily on the generosity and good will of over 200 individuals who volunteer their time and expertise in our free legal advice services and on the support of pro bono counsel in our advocacy work.

We also greatly appreciate the continued support of our funders and partners.

Feedback underscores community workers’ need for legal perspective

‘We work with a very visible client group. They spend a lot of time outside (in public spaces) so they are going to be targeted by the police just by the way they present, by their behaviour, by their dress, by their speech’.

Housing support worker

People without secure housing make up more than one in five police detainees yet are almost 50 times more likely to be victims of crime. Yet homeless people avoid reporting being the victim of a crime or anti-social behaviour because of their fear of the police and the social exclusion they perceive or experience.

Community workers are increasingly responding to this by enhancing their understanding of the law and judicial processes in order to better support clients.

Throughout 2015, we conducted a series of community worker forums across Victoria to meet this demand. Over 190 community workers attended from organisations providing family services, drug and alcohol treatment and supporting the homeless.

Feedback from those who attended highlighted that a basic grounding in the law and legal and judicial processes is very important in their roles, helping community sector workers work with clients by pointing out how to find the correct information to give clients and giving them the confidence to seek help at a community legal centre like ours.

‘The beauty of it is providing clarity on the different processes we face on a day to day basis with our clients. The seminar also put a human face to the justice system. I didn’t realise how many layers there are in legal processes.’

Drug support worker

Thank you to our volunteers

On 4 December, we held a small function to say thank you to the many individuals who volunteer their time and expertise. Over 200 volunteer lawyers, law students and administrators help us to provide a much-needed service to our community. So a huge thank you to all of our volunteers for their hard work and dedication throughout 2015.

The Law Handbook 2016 now available

Recent changes in the law on immigration, privacy and neighbourhood fence disputes are affecting thousands of people everyday, making the latest edition of The Law Handbook as valuable as ever. Continuing a tradition that began in 1977, some of the best legal minds in the country have updated chapters on privacy, changes in immigration law and a new chapter on trademarks and the environment.

Whether it’s managing your money, renovating your house, challenging a will or getting help as a victim of crime, The Law Handbook helps people in the areas of law that most affect them in everyday life, and provides information on where to go for help.

We are extremely proud to be able to continue to publish this well-regarded legal resource for the community and to make it accessible for free to everyone online. Keeping up with changes in the law is no easy task, and we are incredibly grateful for the assistance of our many volunteer contributors who help Victorians understand the laws that most affect them.

The Law Handbook 2016 is available from leading book stores and directly from the Fitzroy Legal Service.

Staff profile: Laura Wilson

Drug work, prison time and the UN pave a winding path to the law

Laura Wilson

Laura Wilson is our 2015 Trainee Lawyer. Laura is of Aboriginal, Scottish and English descent. Her grandmother was a Wiradjuri woman from Yass, New South Wales.

‘My dad is Aboriginal and my mum English. Her sister also married an Aboriginal fellow and all my father’s siblings have mixed marriages, so my extended family is a real rainbow nation.’ Coming from a family of non lawyers, Laura did not rush into law after high school. Laura was the first person in her family to complete year 12 and go on to university. Her parents were very proud and supportive. However, it wasn't a smooth path to law. ‘I started uni and then dropped out. I worked for two years at a heroin detox clinic in St Kilda, First Step. It was good experience for a pretty open and wild 18 year old.’

Possessed of a clearer sense of direction after spending four years at First Step, Laura re-enrolled in uni. By 2008 she had completed a BA Hons in Criminology, which she followed with a Masters in Research (Criminology). In 2010, while completing her Masters thesis, Laura again took a road less travelled, working at Corrections Victoria as a Research and Evaluation Officer. The project she derived greatest satisfaction from was evaluating the Koori education and training programs available in Victorian prisons. She also took part in evaluating a pilot program to help women on community based orders at high risk of re-offending.

While working at Corrections Victoria, Laura also completed her Master of Laws (Juris Doctor) at Monash University. The Juris Doctor is a law degree tailored for non-law graduates. During this time she also volunteered at Youthlaw and the Monash Oakleigh Legal Service.

All of which stoked her appreciation of the importance of human rights and community service. In January 2015 Laura finished at Corrections Victoria. From January to March 2015 she worked as the Indigenous Intern to the Australian Delegation to the United Nations Office, Geneva. She assisted the Australian delegation during the Human Rights Council and Universal Periodic Review periods. ‘Basically we were engaging in negotiations on various issues. It was pretty exciting.’ On her return to Australia in April 2015, Laura joined Fitzroy Legal Service. ‘I always heard from my father about the importance of helping people. People who are the most marginalised are those who need you the most.’

Christmas greetings and opening hours

Before we sign off for 2015, we'd like to take this opportunity to wish all our clients, colleagues, members and volunteers a safe and happy holiday period. Our office will close from 5.00 p.m. Friday 18 December and will re-open at 9.00 a.m. on Monday 4 January 2016. Our night service will recommence on Monday 11 January 2016.

Local business partner

We gratefully acknowledge the support of our latest local business partner: Mr Wow’s Emporium in Fitzroy.

Mr Wow's Emporium