We are pleased to share our October update which highlights some of the key pieces of work undertaken recently, including community legal information resources and advocacy activities. We also profile two members of our team and draw attention to three pro bono partnerships supporting vital legal assistance services for our community.
We have created a new webpage to assist community members with COVID related fines, including a self help kit. Furthermore our COVID-19 Resources Page includes information on where to get information and help on other legal issues.
PHILANTHROPY AUSTRALIA PODCAST
Members of our Women's Leadership Group (part of the Women Transforming Justice project) are featured in the latest Philanthropy Australia podcast "Women with lived experience of the prison system share their stories for change". Listen to the podcast here.
OUR ADVOCACY WORK
Inquiry into the Victorian Government’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
We provided a submission in relation to impacts on the communities we serve, who are facing the burdens of the pandemic and associated measures within a frame of significant economic, social and health-based disadvantage. The social determinants of health and risk factors are not static and for many, the COVID conditions have amplified the impact of particular or intersecting determinants, such as stress, addiction/ drug or alcohol dependence, diagnosed psychiatric cognitive and/ or physical disability, income, lack of safe housing, criminalisation, social exclusion, discrimination, vulnerability to violence.
Our submission, which includes seven recommendations, seeks to address only a portion of the issues arising in the context of the pandemic, and in particular, those issues that we believe had not received adequate attention to date, being impacts on marginalised communities serviced by the Drug Outreach Lawyer Program (‘DOL’). The DOL program supports people whose drug or alcohol dependence/use/addiction underpins their engagement with legal processes, and seeks to bridge access to justice through integrated health justice partnerships that streamline supports to clients facing legal proceedings in a flexible and highly focussed way. Through our partnerships, the program is also focused on supporting young people and clients strongly engaged in recovery.
Pathways to Decarceration: A Justice System Response to COVID-19 Report
We contributed to a report published by the Federation of Community Legal Centres and the Law Institute of Victoria which outlines nine key areas in which the government could make changes to reduce the number of people in Victoria’s prison system to protect Victorians from further outbreaks of COVID-19. The report is clear however, that while decarceration is necessary to reduce the potential impact of COVID-19, any mechanism must have regard for the safety of victim-survivors of family violence who may be impacted by the release of their perpetrators Further information, including the full report, can be viewed here.
We joined with a coalition of CLCs, including Inner Melbourne Community Legal, Barwon Community Legal Service, Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre, Northern Community Legal Centre, Springvale Monash Legal Service, WEstJustice and Youthlaw, to write to the Director of Fines Victoria to express concerns about the internal review processes undertaken by Victoria Police in relation to COVID-19 related fines and ask that the Director execute their oversight powers under the Infringements Act 2006. The letter noted that to date, we have not had a single COVID-19 fine withdrawn by Victoria Police during the internal review process. This is despite widely-reported public comments by Victoria Police that COVID-specific fines that do not pass “a common-sense test” would be withdrawn and that then Deputy Chief Commissioner of Police, Shane Patton, would personally review COVID-19 fines. In our experience, this public commitment has not been fulfilled - unfortunately our overwhelming experience is that internal review applications have been refused and the issuing of the fine has been confirmed, even in instances of an unintentional breach or no breach at all.
Together with the Human Rights Law Centre, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Justice Connect, Law and Advocacy Centre for Women and Mental Health Legal Centre, we wrote to the Victorian Ombudsman to express concerns regarding the conditions in Victorian prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to highlight some case studies that demonstrate systemic issues that we believe warrant oversight by the Ombudsman's office. We raised these issues because the consequences of an outbreak in prisons will be devastating. The nature of prisons mean that people (many of whom have acute and chronic health needs) are in close proximity to others at all times, so physical distancing is impossible. We have recently seen significant outbreaks in closed environments, like aged care facilities, and prisons, with their vulnerable populations, can similarly be the perfect breeding grounds for COVID-19. Once one person is infected on the inside, evidence from around the world shows that it could spread like wildfire.
Inquiry into use of Cannabis in Victoria, Legislative Council Legal & Social Issues Committee
On 14 September we provided our submission to this Inquiry. Our work across the Drug Outreach Lawyer program and other services to Victorians impacted by drug use in a variety of ways, informed the submission. Our Drug Outreach Lawyer program provides health/ social support and improved access to justice for highly marginalised community members through partnerships with YSAS, Uniting Care Regen, North Richmond Community Health, Living Room, Co-health, Odyssey House, Quinn House, supporting clients through a wide catchment of metro Melbourne.
Our submission highlighted that the criminal justice system fails, and manifestly has done so over decades, despite enormous and blind commitment and investment, to deliver to Victorians meaningful public health outcomes in the context of the ‘war on drugs’. Conversely, we draw attention to the persistent and cumulative ways in which the criminal justice instead drives harmful public health outcomes, many of which we believe, in the context of cannabis use, are perhaps unintended, and disproportionate to public expectations and norms.
Inquiry into the Victorian On-Demand Workforce
The Victorian Government commissioned the Inquiry in September 2018 in response to concerns about the wages and conditions of workers in the on-demand or ‘gig’ economy. We supported a joint submission from WEstjustice, JobWatch and Springvale Monash Legal Service regarding the On Demand Inquiry Report recommendations. The submission is broadly supportive of the Inquiry’s recommendations, but emphasises the need to include community legal centres as a key partner. The submission sets out the important role that our sector plays in reaching and supporting vulnerable workers – and call for CLCs to be included as an integral part of the enforcement process.
PRO BONO PARTNERSHIPS EXPAND LEGAL ASSISTANCE
Our partnerships with three firms have enabled greater access to legal assistance services for the Victorian community.
Dentons and DLA Piper are supporting a new appointment-based telephone advice line, providing assistance with civil law matters.
“DLA Piper is proud to be in partnership with Fitzroy Legal Service, particularly during this difficult time when we are seeing an extraordinary demand for legal services and support. We have worked closely with FLS to develop a virtual clinic model where our Melbourne based lawyers, who were previously assisting in person, are now able to provide legal advice over the telephone under the supervision of FLS. As a result, many who may not have previously been able to access legal services can now do so without traveling into the clinic. We look forward to continuing this collaborative effort with FLS and finding innovative solutions to new challenges." - Nesha Balasubramanian, Australia Pro Bono Associate, DLA Piper.
“Dentons is incredibly proud of our partnership with Fitzroy Legal Service to establish a telephone advice program which supports people within our local communities on legal issues impacting their daily lives” – Stephanie Fiteni, Solicitor, Dentons Australia Limited.
Hall & Wilcox are providing support to our Migrant Employment Law Clinic which assists individuals from overseas who have been underpaid or exploited in employment, including international students, people on working holiday visas, workers and refugee and humanitarian visa holders.
"It is a privilege to be able to assist in some small way to enforce the workplace entitlements of the many vulnerable clients assisted by the Migrant Employment Law Clinic. Wage theft is one of the most compelling social justice issues that disproportionately affects the most disadvantaged segments of our community, such as migrant workers. Aside from the opportunity to do good, working within the Clinic is also a valuable development opportunity for our junior lawyers, who have enjoyed the technical nature of the work and the opportunity to benefit from the expertise of Adrian and Morgan." - Dan Poole, Hall & Wilcox.
FLS AWARDED NDIS GRANT
FLS has received an NDIS Information, Linkages and Capacity Building Grant to auspice a project with Voices for Change, a Self-Advocacy group for people with acquired brain injury and lived experience of the criminal justice system. This project will support Voices for Change to build a strong foundation, grow its membership of self-advocates and continue their work to influence positive, lived-experience led change in the criminal justice system. The RMIT Centre for Innovative Justice's Supporting Justice project has been working with Voices for Change to influence change in the criminal justice system to address the overrepresentation of people with disability. This new partnership between FLS and Voices for Change has grown out of the work of the Supporting Justice Project. Dorothy Armstrong, one of the founders of Voices for Change, has shared their experience in working with the Centre for Innovative Justice on their submission to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. The piece, titled "Finding my voice and sharing my lived experience", can be read here.
RACHEL & HER CHILDREN PROJECT EVALUATION REPORT PUBLISHED
The "Rachel & her children" project, funded by the Victorian Legal Services Board, commenced in March 2019 as a fifteen-month pilot, testing a new model of integrated service delivery for victims/survivors of family violence – the model being a collaboration between legal services (focused on the rights, best interests and instructions of the primary carer) and child support services (focused on the rights, best interests and well-being of the child). The project was delivered in conjunction with Save the Children Australia, who employed the child focused worker and provided their expertise in children's rights and well-being. A City of Yarra focused project, we also formed partnerships with the Connie Benn Centre and the Neighbourhood Justice Centre who generously provided consultation space.
An external Evaluator, Effective Change, was engaged from the outset to contribute to the implementation of the model, and moreover, to evaluate its effectiveness. The evaluation report published recently, demonstrates that this model is ideal where there are extremely complex family violence legal matters in which a child or children have multifaceted needs that need to be met. The report includes key findings around service collaboration, improved outcomes for victims/survivors and identification of practice, policy and service system improvements.
Whilst funding for the project has finished, we have been able to build on the City of Yarra relationships developed during the project to hone in on local support for children. We continue to work collaboratively where possible to fill gaps and advocate for victim survivors, noting the limitations of the current service system for children.
MEET TWO OF OUR TEAM
PAUL KIDD (COMMUNITY LAWYER, NJC)
What attracted you to working at FLS?
I came pretty late to the law, starting at FLS as a 53-year-old trainee lawyer in 2018, after graduating from law school the year before. I’ve always had an interest in social justice issues, particularly around LGBTIQ rights, activism, and issues relating to HIV/AIDS. I was naturally attracted to working for FLS because of its incredible reputation as a fighter for social justice causes, and incredibly lucky to get the traineeship and then to be able to transition to a community lawyer role.
What does your role involve?
I am one of two FLS staff located at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre in Collingwood. The NJC is a unique combination of community centre, court and corrections, which uses therapeutic jurisprudence and problem-solving approaches to try to respond to crime and other social problems by addressing their underlying causes, such as drug use, mental health and homelessness. My colleague Beth and I provide duty-lawyer services at the NJC in criminal, family law and tenancy matters, helping people on the day of their court hearing, making referrals and appearing in court. We also do criminal defence casework, community education and outreach. It’s a fast-paced and interesting job, working at the country’s first therapeutic community court and focused on helping ensure access to justice for some of the most amazingly resilient and interesting people I’ve ever met.
A little background about yourself
I was born and grew up on the far south coast of NSW, Yuin country. I come from a big family of seven kids (the ‘Kidd kids’ as we were inevitably known) which means I now have lots of nephews, nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces. I studied architecture and journalism at uni before finally (so far) settling on law. I did my undergraduate degree at La Trobe Law School, graduating with first-class honours (my thesis was on HIV criminalisation) and I’m now doing postgraduate studies in criminal law and forensic evidence at Monash.
What led you to want to study law?
I initially started studying law in the early 1990s, after I got a paralegal job with the Australian Government Solicitor. I was working on asbestos-related personal injury litigation and was inspired by the way the lawyers I worked with strived to act ethically and compassionately, despite the fact the Commonwealth was the defendant in those cases, and in stark contrast to the big asbestos companies that were our co-defendants. I did a couple of years of ‘night school’ law before I had to give up my studies, because I was increasingly unwell with HIV, which in those days was a terminal diagnosis. After new treatments came along, I wanted to make sure I did something meaningful with my ‘second chance’ – that took me into HIV criminalisation activism, back to law school and eventually to FLS.
What do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies or travel? If you have travelled, anywhere special?
I live in an amazing off-grid sustainable mudbrick home on Dja Dja Wurrung land in central Victoria, about an hour from Melbourne, with my husband Brent. They work in mental health advocacy and are a globally-recognised consultant on HIV stigma and resilience. We have a huge veggie garden, an orchard, goats, dogs and chickens (and lots of kangaroos). I have been lucky to have such a relaxing place to get through the COVID pandemic lockdowns – I have been known to go straight from an online court appearance into my veggie garden to de-stress (or celebrate), pull a few weeds and think about what are the next steps for the client.
MONIQUE MACRITCHIE (VOLUNTEER LAWYER)
What attracted you to volunteering at FLS?
FLS has a great reputation for assisting people in the community. I had worked in a few not-for profits while studying my law degree and I wanted to continue assisting those who do not have the means to access justice. As a family lawyer, I was able to join the night service. I enjoy working with clients and hearing about their lives and backgrounds. Each family has a unique story and set of circumstances.
What does your volunteer role involve?
I volunteer in the Family Law night clinic. Each case is different but generally I provide advice to people on settling their property and finances after a marriage or defacto relationship breakup or working through parenting and care arrangements for their children. Some clients are very organised, but a lot of clients don't understand the court processes and find it hard to navigate the application process. I assist them with this and with preparing consent orders, or discussing options and a pathway forward to avoid litigation if possible.
A number of cases involve family violence where clients have an intervention order against them. Often clients do not have an adequate support network or find themselves homeless as a result of the order. We discuss the consequences of breaching the order, or work through options for them to spend time with the children. As many of FLS' clients are from overseas we discuss issues around managing the children's passports and the Airport Watch List.
A little background about yourself
I was born in Toronto, Canada but my family spent many years living in Africa so my early childhood was spent there. I came to Australia when I first started high school and have been here since. I studied at Monash and more recently at Melbourne University.
What led you to want to study law?
I am the first lawyer in the family. I have always been interested in the law and wanted to take on something where I could use my skills to help people. I am a later law lawyer having had a first career in general management, business development and marketing in the tertiary sector. After my degree I was an associate to a senior judge and the Chief Justice of the Family Court. That experience gave me first hand insight into the complexity and diversity of family law and I have built on this experience ever since.
What do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies or travel?
I love to travel. My last job had an international focus so I travelled a lot through Asia, the Middle East and Europe. When I was young I back-packed through Latin America and I have fond memories of the region, particularly Peru and Argentina. I enjoy hiking and skiing, spending time with family and friends and spending an afternoon reading a book.
2020 LAW HANDBOOK HARD COPY ON SALE
The 2020 Law Handbook was released in February and is the 42nd edition of this important Victorian legal resource. The hard copy is on sale and can be purchased https://www.fitzroy-legal.org.au/store
The resource is also available as an eBook and in individual PDF chapters.
If you are in a position to support our work, please consider making a donation. Donations over $2 are tax deductible and can be made via our website https://www.fitzroy-legal.org.au/donate.
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