Welcome to the April 2017 quarterly news, our first edition for 2017. It has been a busy year so far for Fitzroy Legal Service. We've made submissions to the Victorian Government Inquiry into Drug Law Reform, to the Victorian Government Inquiry into the Pilot Medically Supervised Injecting Centre Bill 2017, as well as to the City of Melbourne regarding their proposed amendments to homelessness in the CBD. We launched our 2017 ebook edition of The Law Handbook, we took part in Bridges to Harmony Festival, and on 1st April, we launched our Pozible campaign to #Saveourfriday due to Commonwealth funding cuts from 1 July 2017.
Bridges to Harmony Festival
On Friday 24 March, there was a large community turnout in Fitzroy for the Bridges to Harmony Festival with the aim to support diversity and social inclusion, and create an atmosphere of sharing and respect across cultures. Fitzroy Legal Service partnered with Fitzroy Learning Network and Yarra Libraries for a sunny afternoon at Condell Park, celebrating our vibrant and multicultural neighbourhood with music performances, food stalls, face painting and children’s activities. The event was an overwhelming success with over sixty volunteers working before, during and after the event. A huge thank you to the Fitzroy Learning Network, Yarra Libraries and all the wonderful staff and volunteers who contributed to the success of the event.
We Need Your Help
Despite growing numbers of people needing free legal assistance, Fitzroy Legal Service may no longer afford our week-nightly service in the face of a 30% funding cut from July 1.
Launching a fundraising campaign to keep the Friday evening legal advice service open, our executive officer Claudia Fatone said if $40,000 couldn’t be raised by July 1, frontline services may have to be stripped back. Read here to find out more.
To help keep the free nightly legal service open, go to https://pozible.com/project/saveourfriday
Melbourne University Alumni Magazine Feature
Emily Buchanan, our Senior Criminal Lawyer at Fitzroy Legal Service, recently shared her story with the Melbourne Law School. "People often ask me whether it is difficult to defend alleged criminals. To my mind, this question misses the mark. If the Crown brings all its power and resources to bear against an individual, it is absolutely essential that it be held to its burden of proof; to do otherwise is to make a concession to arbitrary State power, the erosion of civil liberties and the rule of law." Read here to find out more.
Staff profile - Bryony Seignior
Well-travelled Bryony Seignior brings her passion for social justice to Fitzroy Legal Service as our new trainee lawyer
It is hard to believe a twenty-three-year-old has travelled the world as extensively as Bryony Seignior. But for our new trainee lawyer, her travelling experience has helped shape her career path as a lawyer, starting with her traineeship at Fitzroy Legal Service.
Originally from Melbourne, Bryony moved to Queensland as a teenager and afterwards, studied law at QUT because she saw it as a practical way to make change; one of the main reasons why she wanted to work at Fitzroy legal Service. Her traineeship will help her along the way in her career, giving her an opportunity to work in a number of different areas including, Social Action Policy and Law Reform, Family Law, Criminal Law and work with lawyers at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre. The rotation will give her extensive insight into community law, building on the experience she has gained through previous practical placements and international travel.
While at university, she travelled with ten other students to Myanmar to work with BABSEA (Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia), an NGO focused on justice programs for members of the legal community. She had arrived just as the political climate was changing and the country had begun opening up its borders to foreigners. The experience was both invaluable and challenging, despite the language barrier of many of the students.
After moving back to Melbourne to complete her degree, she gained practical experience working at VCAT as a Bench Clerk and in the registry. She also volunteered at the Werribee branch of WestJustice Community Legal Centre, where she worked closely with School Lawyer Vincent Shin.
After finishing her degree in 2016 with honours and two Deans List Awards, she travelled again, this time to Jordan and Israel, before returning to take up her traineeship at Fitzroy Legal Service. For Bryony, travelling has helped shape her burgeoning career as a lawyer, and given her a unique perspective, working at an organisation such as Fitzroy Legal Service. “I love getting out of my comfort zone. I think it grounds me a little bit, learning about the rest of the world and gaining awareness of cultures that are completely different from mine. I’m very lucky to have had the opportunity to get out of my bubble and see the world from a different perspective.” Her favourite country, so far, has been Morocco. It was the first time she had travelled solo for a month. “It was like nowhere I’ve been before. It was such a big cultural change.” In her spare time she likes to socialise with her close knit group of friends and hang out with her two dogs and two cats. And she also loves to go to Victoria Street for Pho. A lot. “It’s the best.”
On top of her workload at Fitzroy Legal Service this year, she will be completing the Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. Although she is unsure where she sees herself in her career, her main interest is in Women’s Justice. She hopes the rotation will help her decide the next path to take. However, she reminds herself why she chose to study law in the first place.
“I feel like law is such a powerful vehicle for creating change in society. I always hoped that if I could somehow infiltrate it, I would be in a better position to change it.”
Assisting a vulnerable client with related tenancy and criminal matters
Fitzroy Legal Service lawyers based at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre recently assisted a client with a breach of community corrections order. The client was very vulnerable and has an acquired brain injury. The client advised that after 10 years of homelessness, he finally was offered a public housing property in in July. The client disclosed that there were issues from the outset with gangs overtaking his property, standing over him and taking advantage of his acquired brain injury. The matter resulted in a shooting occurring at his tenancy between rival gangs in which the client suffered head injuries and was told by police that he was unable to return. The client was seeking a transfer to another tenancy but was told by the housing office that he needed to relinquish his tenancy and was afraid that this would mean another ten years of homelessness. We assisted the client with his criminal matters noting the circumstances concerning his housing as a factor in mitigation regarding the breach of the corrections order. The court finalised the matter with a treatment-only community corrections order.
We then worked together with the client’s workers from two other community agencies to address the housing situation. This was particularly important as without stable housing, the client would face many barriers in being able to comply with a community corrections order. We obtained written advice from Victoria Police that it was unsafe to return to the premises. We also obtained information from a housing agency and through support workers, that the issues with the gang activity concerning the tenancies in that particular area was a known issue from the very outset and that the housing office provided this tenancy to a vulnerable client with an acquired brain injury whilst being aware of these issues.
When seeking a secondary opinion, it was suggested that there was little of chance of advocating for the client to be transferred to other premises and limited legal basis to rely upon. However, despite this advice, we proceeded to challenge the matter with an appeal to the Housing Appeals Office. The matter has since resolved through alternative dispute resolution with the client now being offered another tenancy in a location close to all of the client’s support services. Without this advocacy, the client could have been homeless for a very significant period and this could have severely affected his ability to comply with his community corrections order.
Paul Bingham, Law Handbook Contributor
Paul Bingham is a barrister with many achievements to his name. He was admitted to practise in 1982 and signed the Victorian Bar Roll in 1991. His major focus has been working with clients that are having difficulty with financial services and institutions. In 2013, Paul was awarded the Victorian Bar Pro Bono Trophy, a category which recognises outstanding individual achievement in pro bono advocacy over a long period. This award was to acknowledge and appreciate Paul’s ‘tireless advocacy for the rights of low income and vulnerable consumers’.
Paul has held a number of positions over the years. He’s been a solicitor and a university lecturer; he’s written a book and been a financial counsellor. When asked how he ended up doing all of these things, he said that it was his time as a financial counsellor that really set him on his current path. ‘It showed me that I could use the law degree that I had in the service of low income people with debt problems,’ he reflects. The experience led him into law and played a big part in the formation of the Consumer Credit Legal Service. While this isn’t a career route that one can plan out, it essentially comes down to the fact that Paul has remained true to his dedication and desire to act on behalf of those who need help.
As far as career highlights go, Paul’s is a pretty significant one. During his time as a solicitor at the Consumer Credit Legal Service, Paul worked on the successful legal action that resulted in the large American corporation, HFC Financial Services, having their credit provider’s licence removed/rejected. The company had been operating in Australia for some time, though their practises were exploitative towards their customers. This included, amongst other things, improper collection practices, failing to adequately train staff and failing to refund excess charges. The project was huge; the entire process took eighteen months. During this time, Paul worked determinedly towards building the wealth of evidence to demonstrate that HFC Financial Services would not perform their duties efficiently, honestly and fairly if approved to hold a credit provider’s licence.
Paul has been contributing his expertise, by request, to The Law Handbook since 1984. Paul’s passion and hard work acting on behalf of people who have trouble with financial services, such as insurance companies, superannuation providers and financial planners, is a testament to his belief in the law being accessible. He sees The Law Handbook as an important resource because he believes that ‘it’s important that people have access to an uncomplicated statement of their rights’. In fact, he wrote an entire book, The Credit Handbook, to advise consumers in an accessible manner of their rights under the credit laws in Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT and Western Australia.
Paul travels quite a bit – and not just for pleasure. Paul’s practice is in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Western Australia, so he spends quite a lot of time on the move between those locations. When he does have time for non-work related travel, he enjoys travelling with his wife. On his last holiday, he spent a couple of months travelling around Scandinavia!
THE 2017 LAW HANDBOOK IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE IN HARD COPY, EBOOK AND INDIVIDUAL PDF CHAPTER FORMAT. The 39th edition of The Law Handbook includes updated entries for multiple areas of the law, and contains two new chapters: trade marks and sex work. The Law Handbook 2017 is available in hard copy, ebook and individual chapters and can be purchased from our online store.
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