Quarterly News - March 2018

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.

FITZROY LEGAL SERVICE CELEBRATES 45 YEARS AND 40 YEARS OF THE LAW HANDBOOK

On Thursday 15 February 2018 the Fitzroy Legal Service celebrated 45 years of legal advice, advocacy, education, information and representation to Victorian communities.   We also celebrated 40 years of producing the bible for Victorian law, The Law Handbook.

The Law Handbook makes Victorian law accessible in simplified language and is used by Lawyers, Community Workers, Students, Teachers and the general community.  The Law Handbook website has been accessed by over 8 million users since it was launched in 2009.

Without the dedication of the original founders, staff and volunteers over the years, both these achievements could not have been possible.

Profits from The Law Handbook enable us to provide continued legal advice, advocacy and education.

See our video at: https://t.co/KvYNVHboKz

Celebratory Cake

 

Original LHB editors Julian Gardner, David Neal and Peter CashmanThe Legal Resources Book original editors - (L-R) Julian Gardner, David Neal, Peter Cashman

THE LAW HANDBOOK 2018

The Law Handbook 2018 was released on 31 January 2018 in hard copy format.  The eBook version was released on 1 March 2018 and individual PDF chapters are also available.  The 2018 edition contains new content including:

  • Chapter 4.3 includes two new sections - covering assisted reproductive treatment and surrogacy, gender and relationship recognition and special medical procedures.
  • Chapter 12.1 includes new content about changes to temporary residence visas and about possible changes to citizenship laws.

In the 2018 edition the legal glossary has been completely updated by Trischa Mann (author of Oxford's Australian Law Dictionary).   To purchase your copy go to our online store.

LAW COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA JUSTICE PROJECT

On Wednesday 14 March 2018 the Law Council of Australia released a Progress Report on its Justice Project.   The report was released as part of a National Press Club special event 'Justice State of the Nation' and can be viewed here.  

The report noted that whilst 14% of Australia's population live below the poverty line, only 8% of Australians qualify for a grant of legal aid.   The report also highlighted that justice issues have far-reaching implications for policy makers across different portfolios and governments and that they are integral to addressing disadvantage.

Fiona McLeod, immediate past-president of the Law Council of Australia, spoke at the National Press Club event, stating: “One of the things that we have suggested that would be incredibly cost effective, for example, is this concept of legal health checks. This was an idea that I think came out in the 1970s from Fitzroy Legal Service, that you would have a basic check on how you are going with your fines, how are you going with paying your bills, how are you going with your rent or your rent assistance, how are you going with your government benefits, and tick a box that can reduce the actual cost and time of the lawyer in the first place, and the cost of justice.”

Footage from the National Press Club event can be viewed by clicking on this link

FAMILY VIOLENCE AND FAMILY LAW RESOURCES FOR CULTURALLY AND LINGUISTICALLY DIVERSE (CALD) COMMUNITIES

In 2014 Fitzroy Legal Service received three year funding rom the City of Yarra Investing in Community Grants program to increase legal literacy on family violence for men from CALD communities.  This project was in response to a lack of knowledge of family violence in CALD communities in Yarra, particularly around what constitutes family violence, and the role and powers of the police, lawyers and courts. 

Building on our existing skills and expertise, the initial plan was to run workshops with men’s groups to discuss family violence, the role of police and available legal supports.    In September 2015 we altered the central aims of the project – from workshops to producing educational resources.   The CALD community groups we consulted indicated that such resources, available in community languages, would be the most effective way to address the lack of legal knowledge.  These consultations also revealed women in CALD communities also lacked legal knowledge, and the scope of the resources was extended to include family law.

In 2016, we received a grant from the Bennelong Foundation to expand our education activities to newly arrived communities engaged in the Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP).  This was to ensure that important legal information on family law and family violence was delivered to newly arrived migrants early in the settlement process.  As well as newly arrived community members, settlement service workers were also targeted, to increase their knowledge of family violence and appropriate referral services.

Our educational resource Family Law and Family Violence in Australia is now available in English, Simple English and five community languages - Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Dinka, Oromo and Somali.   The resources can be downloaded via our website Publications page.  Since the resources were released late August 2017, over 900 copies have been distributed.   We have also provided education on the resources to over 200 members from newly arrived communities and approximately 100 community workers (including settlement services).

ASSISTING MARY 

We continue to provide crucial services to victims/survivors of family violence, such as Mary.  Mary (not her real name) was born in South Sudan and came to Australia on a spousal visa 6 years ago. She has two young children.  Her husband was violent towards her from the start of their relationship. His brothers were also violent towards her.    Mary was afraid to tell someone about the problems she was having at home but when things got really bad, she told her teacher about some of the violence. Her teacher then referred her to see a lawyer at Fitzroy Legal Service. Since then, we have assisted Mary to obtain: 

  • a grant of permanent residency;
  • Centrelink payments;
  • stable housing;
  • a final intervention order for her and the children against her husband;
  • interim intervention orders against her two brothers-in-law;
  • a parenting plan regarding the children.

Before Mary saw a lawyer at Fitzroy Legal Service, she was completely dependent on her husband for housing, income and a visa to remain in Australia.  Now, she has her own income and housing and can provide for her children. She is no longer unsafe.

TRIAL OF BODY WORN CAMERAS

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 worn 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.

MEET KATRINA BARRETT

Katrina Barrett is a financial counsellor with FMC and is co-located with the Fitzroy Legal Service.

What does your role as a Financial Counsellor involve?

I provide information, support and advocacy for people in financial difficulty. This typically involves providing clients with their options regarding their debts and may include applying for debts to be waived or reduced. I also assist clients in considering early release of superannuation and bankruptcy.

Can you tell us a bit about FMC?

FMC Mediation and Counselling has been helping people take back control of their lives for over 30 years, seeing over 8300 clients each year across 20 locations.  FMC supports individuals, couples and families (including children and young people) through their conflict issues, financial, relationship and mental health issues.

FMC is funded to provide a range of family and relationship services, including Family Dispute Resolution Mediation services, Relationship and Family Counselling services, Specialist Children Counselling and Early Intervention services for children, Support services for families experiencing mental health issues, Financial Counselling and Financial Capability services.

You work from Fitzroy Legal Service two days per week. Can you tell us a bit about why you are co-located at FLS and the benefits to clients?

FMC are funded by the federal government to provide Financial Counselling in Fitzroy and surrounding suburbs but do not have a centre in the area. After providing a half day outreach Financial Counselling service from FLS during 2016 it became obvious that there was the demand. FLS is so well known in the community and has had co- located Financial Counsellors in the past so it made sense for me to be at FLS 2 days per week. It makes the referral process from and to the lawyers easy and seamless.

A little background about yourself:

Where were you born?

I was born in Melbourne

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

Looking back over your career, if you had to pick a stand out moment, a special moment, what comes to mind?

I had a client from a CALD background who had taken out a couple of personal loans and credit cards to buy a van so that he could get work as a courier. He came to me with $135,000 of unsecured debt with one bank. He had a degenerative back disease and could no longer work. His only income was Centrelink. He had sold his van to help pay his loans but had run out of financial resources by the time he came to see me. I applied to the bank for debt waivers on the grounds that he would not be able to work again and being on Centrelink he couldn’t make any repayments. Initially the bank gave him 6 months moratorium without requiring any repayments and they ceased the fees and interest for that period. I kept advocating that he needed a permanent solution and provided medical evidence that his situation was unlikely to change and after 6 months both credit cards and personal loans were waived.

What do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies or travel? If you have travelled, anywhere special?

I have a teenage boy and most of my free time is taken up with watching him play national league soccer or taking him to training 4 nights a week. Our rescue dog, Twistie, also loves coming to training.

I love travelling but due to finances it is restricted these days to camping somewhere close like Wilson’s Promontory. But I would love to go back to India where I spent 10 months travelling by myself when I was in my 20’s.

Katrina Barrett

WAYS TO SUPPORT OUR WORK

There are a number of ways to support the work of Fitzroy Legal Service staff and volunteers:

1) Become a Member
Membership is open to any individual to apply. See our website for further details.

2) Purchase a Law Handbook
Grab your copy of The Law Handbook, a practical guide to the law in Victoria, updated by over 80 legal experts. It provides free, comprehensive information about the laws that affect Victorians in everyday life.   Purchases can be made via our online store.  

3) Make a tax deductible donation 
Every $ counts. Donations of $2 or more are tax deductible and can be made via our website.