Fitzroy Legal Service has been a hive of activity over the last few months. We hosted a visit from former High Court Judge Michael Kirby, been involved in community pop-ups for the Week Without Violence, contributed to a critical family violence resource, and got some prominent media coverage of our public interest law work. Soon our members will vote on whether to proceed with the amalgamation with Darebin Community Legal Centre. Read on for the details.
MICHAEL KIRBY VISIT
We were honoured to host former High Court Judge, The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG, at our offices in September. The visit was instigated by our Trainee Lawyer and public health campaigner, Paul Kidd.
Mr Kirby is a vocal supporter of community legal centres. After receiving a briefing on the Service’s activities, he addressed staff and volunteers, commending their work: ‘I am proud of what you are doing. This is what equal justice under law really means. Keep up your magnificent work.'
Over the last two years, Fitzroy Legal Service and Darebin Community Legal Centre have been progressing discussions on amalgamating into a single organisation to better meet the evolving legal needs of the communities we serve.
Members and volunteers of both organisations met in August to discuss the proposal. Representatives from both organisations outlined the work done to date and fielded questions on how the proposed new organisation would merge and function.
The governing bodies of the two organisations have agreed on the following key terms:
- A new legal entity will be established through amalgamation via statute (Incorporations Association Act);
- The new entity will be called Fitzroy Legal Service in recognition of the existing strong brand recognition and the history of Darebin will be maintained through branding at the Reservoir premises and other public messaging;
- The new Board will comprise four members from each of the FLS Board and DCLC Committee of Management, with an additional independent member (making a total of nine board members for the amalgamated entity).
A draft of the proposed Rules for the new entity was circulated to members for comment in October and the final version, along with Notice of the AGM, was provided to members on 7 November 2018.
To decide whether to proceed with the amalgamation, members will vote on a special resolution at the upcoming Annual General Meeting on Thursday 29 November 2018. If agreed to, and if the members of Darebin CLC also agree, the amalgamation will be undertaken.
KNOWLEDGE TO ADVOCATE RESOURCE LAUNCHED
Northern Integrated Family Violence Services have produced the Knowledge to Advocate resource to help support workers understand the intricacies of the legal systems in place in Victoria. It provides clear advice on how workers can support and advocate for victim survivors through their legal journeys, such as Victoria Police processes, Intervention Orders, legal support and Magistrates’ Court processes.
Experts featured include police, support workers, community liaisons and our Senior Lawyer, Family Law & Family Violence, Ella Crotty.
'The really important thing to understand is that the family violence legal system and the family law system are different, and have different focuses. The focus of the family violence system is safety. The focus of the family law system is the child's right to have a relationship with their parents, balanced against any risk their parents may pose to them.'
REFORM TO THE DIVERSION SYSTEM CALLED FOR
Fitzroy Legal Service, along with 16 other legal advocacy bodies, has signed an open letter to the Attorney-General calling for diversion reform in Victoria. The call asks for changes to the Criminal Procedure Act, removing the requirement that the prosecution consent to diversion and allow the ultimate decision in this regard to rest with the judiciary. This will increase transparency and improve equal access to these critical programs.
WEEK WITHOUT VIOLENCE
During the international Week Without Violence in October we participated in a series of community information pop-ups at the Richmond, Collingwood and Fitzroy Public Housing Estates. The events raises awareness of family violence services and were run with Women's Health in the North, the Northern Integrated Family Violence Services and the Neighbourhood Justice Centre. Artworks from the Clothes Line Project, where women and their supporters express their feelings about family violence on t-shirts, were displayed at the stalls. Senior Lawyer Ella Crotty and education officer Ela Stewart also participated in Fitzroy High School’s respectful relationships program, providing legal information about what family violence is under the law and how to get help and support.
THANKS TO MICHAEL CLOTHIER
Special thanks to Michael Clothier, who is putting down his contributor’s pen after 30 years of writing the immigration law chapter of The Law Handbook. Michael is one of Australia’s foremost authorities on immigration law. His 1985 High Court case, Kioa v West, remains the leading case on the limits of natural justice and procedural fairness required of government decision makers. We are eternally grateful to Michael for his dedication and diligence in making this extremely important section of the legal system accessible to everyone.
Learn more about Michael’s career and his history with immigration law in this 2016 profile.
AND THANKS TO BRIAN WRIGHT
FLS Life Member Brian Wright has stepped down from the Publications and Philanthropy Committee after 28 years. Brian joined the Committee in 1990 and, between 2008 and 2014, was its convenor. Through this role he has provided crucial guidance on the evolution of The Law Handbook, of which he has been a contributor since first signing up as a volunteer in 1978.
Brian’s proudest moment was when FLS resumed managing the publication of The Law Handbook in 1987, after several years of being managed by an external publisher. ‘We had quite a heated general meeting and took it back and decided to do it all ourselves,’ he said. ‘We developed it and it's worked well.’
‘I'm just amazed at how much the Legal Service continues to be needed in the community. I think the crucial thing is survival. Being able to continue The Law Handbook indefinitely would be a significant victory.’
While he’s stepping down from the Committee, Brian will continue to write the negligence, transport injuries and work injuries sections of The Law Handbook.
CHALLENGING THE TOUGH ON CRIME NARRATIVE
Meghan Fitzgerald, our Manager of Social Action, Policy and Law Reform, has been busy pushing back against the Victorian Government’s changes to mandatory sentencing laws. The change would see a mandatory minimum sentence of six months for any person convicted of assaulting an emergency worker.
We have strongly opposed these laws due to the negative impact they would have on the community. This opposition is also voiced by many other health, community and legal organisations across the state. Speaking with The Saturday Paper, Meghan explained how the changes go against the government’s proposal to address family violence. ‘There was an abject failure to engage in the most fundamental consultation process, and there will be unintended impacts,’ she said.
Writing for Fairfax’s mastheads, Clementine Ford mirrored our concerns, highlighting evidence that these laws impact already at-risk Victorians and unnecessarily involve them in the criminal justice system rather than working together for safer communities. Meghan spoke with Ford saying, ‘peak bodies of a sector vastly dominated by women, that just may have had a vital contribution to make in developing a plan for a safer community for all, were excluded completely [from this process] and remain unheard.’
VOLUNTEER PROFILE: CLAIRE FEBEY
Claire Febey is a staunch advocate for young people experiencing disadvantage. As Save the Children’s State Manager for Victoria and South Australia, Claire works to help young people overcome barriers and reach their potential. This drive for social justice led Claire to start volunteering her time to help Fitzroy Legal Service shape its fundraising strategy in 2016. In June of this year she was appointed to the Board.
‘I really admire the work of Fitzroy Legal Service and the community legal sector more broadly,’ Claire said. ‘They are staffed by passionate and hardworking people who do an enormous service for the community and punch well above their weight on limited funding.’
For Claire, holding the justice system to account is critical to addressing intergenerational cycles of poverty and disadvantage.
‘The system fails some of the most vulnerable children in our community,’ Claire says. ‘They have a poor start to life, move from child protection into the youth justice system, and are set up for a lifetime of challenge and adversity. Time and time again, we miss opportunities to support them and build on their strengths. We fail them as children, write them off as young people, then blame them as adults for not helping themselves.
‘The community legal sector is the forefront of the fight to push back against these systemic failures and bring about real change.’
Our community and clients are the driving force of our work at Fitzroy Legal Service. Client feedback always gives inspiration and valuable insight into our impact.
Night Service – Letter from client:
Adrian, this is [name withheld], a client at Fitzroy. The police have closed the investigation without charges on me and today a mutual intervention order has been accepted in the cross application. I thank you from the bottom of my heart to have guided me in my P&Bs and case progress that I could be successful today. God bless you!
Drug Outreach Lawyer program – Text from client:
Thanks mate it was the biggest issue I had, now I can focus on the real small issues. When we catch up next it’s my shout for a nice lunch, as you have always been there for me and cared and treated me normal. For meeting you I am so blessed and grateful, words can’t describe. You’re a real genuine person and very caring and understanding, if wasn’t for u I would be back in jail or letting my life go….. I’ve changed so much in so many ways since my last jail sentence.
WAYS TO SUPPORT OUR WORK
There are a number of ways to support the work of Fitzroy Legal Service staff and volunteers:
Purchase The 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. The Law Handbook is available in hard copy, eBook and individual PDF chapters.
Make a tax deductible donation – Every $ counts. Donations of $2 or more are tax deductible.
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