Community Law News Spring 2014
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Welcome to our Spring 2014 issue
Welcome to the Spring 2014 Community Law Newsletter. In this comprehensive issue, we look at what the National Census results show about Victorian CLCs, we chart the changing context for CLCs both in Victoria and nationally, we introduce new staff and new ways of communicating, and we update you on the Federation's extensive family violence and Smart Justice advocacy. You'll also find the latest on sector development, CLC accreditation, our Adaptive Leadership program, and the Law Graduate Scheme (open for 2015 applications
). We conclude the issue with a wrap of media activity, including a comprehensive round-up of Federation and Smart Justice media coverage. We hope you will be engaged and informed by this issue, and we welcome your feedback
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National Census highlights strengths of Victorian CLCs
The first NACLC CLC Census provides evidence of the fantastic work of CLCs in Victoria and across the country. Highlights include the fact that 86.6 per cent of CLCs nationally report that they undertake law reform; 87.9 percent of CLCs nationally use volunteers; and 76.3 per cent of CLCs provide outreach services at a location other than their main branch.
The Victorian results of the survey (which 40 Victorian CLCs responded to) show that Victorian CLCs are more likely to have a pro bono relationship than other CLCs, with Victorian centres attracting 18,114 pro bono hours per year (35.6 per cent of the reported national total) as well as 8,943 volunteer hours per week (37.1 per cent of the reported volunteer hours at a national level).
Victorian centres are also more likely to have a formal relationship with a university to deliver clinical legal education to students and are more likely to have conducted a skills audit of their Board. However, Victorian CLCs are less likely to have an Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander identified position (7.5 per cent in Victoria as opposed to 19.7 per cent nationally).
The Census provides Victorian CLCs with an opportunity to give feedback to the Federation each year, and to suggest areas for future focus by the Federation. Victorian CLCs rated Federation work highly, including policy and law reform, communication with CLCs and overall performance. CLCs reported priorities for next year as including assistance with effective evaluation; strategic service delivery planning and innovative use of technology.
Federal funding cuts
After CLCs learnt of Federal Government cuts across the legal assistance sector in December 2013, Federal Budget week in 2014 brought details of how some of these cuts would be applied as well as news of more cuts to CLCs planned for the future.
Fifty seven community legal centres nationally, including 14 in Victoria, will lose funding in 2015–16 and 2016–17 (see the Community Law Australia media release). These cuts will reduce frontline services in a number of high need areas across Victoria, with services providing help with family violence matters disproportionately affected.
Details of the services affected by these cuts and, where available, the number of clients likely to be deprived of help are in the Federation’s supplementary submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Access to Justice Arrangements. The Budget exposed further cuts planned for future years – between 2013–14 and 2017–18 federal funding for community legal centres will be cut by over one quarter.
Restrictions on use of Federal Government funding for law reform and policy activity
Since 1 July 2014 changes to the CLSP service agreements restrict
CLCs’ ability to use Federal Government funding to undertake law reform, policy work and other systemic advocacy.
Working to change unfair laws, policies and practices that negatively affect CLCs’ client groups is core CLC work – it is often the most effective and most efficient way to improve access to justice and in many cases prevents people from needing legal help with problems in the future. Fortunately, unlike centres in some other states and territories, Victorian community legal centres can continue to undertake systemic work with state funding provided through Victoria Legal Aid, and with funding from non-government sources.
Federation advocacy on changes
The Federation is continuing to work with member centres to address the funding cuts and law reform restrictions, and to raise awareness of their likely impact on access to justice through Community Law Australia, the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Access to Justice Arrangements and advocacy with policy makers and politicians.
Productivity Commission inquiry into access to justice arrangements
Meanwhile, the Productivity Commission inquiry into Access to Justice Arrangements is progressing, with a final report due to government in September 2014.
Along with many member centres, the Federation has engaged with the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry through joint and individual submissions in response to the Draft Report and appeared before the Commission at its Melbourne hearing on Wednesday 11 June.
Following that hearing, the Federation produced a supplementary submission in consultation with members. In addition to detailing the impact on frontline services of Federal Budget cuts to 14 Victorian community legal centres, the submission gave examples of the effectiveness of law reform and policy advocacy, which have been restricted under new Federal funding arrangements that commenced 1 July.
Community Law Australia update
Community Law Australia, a joint campaign of the National Association of CLCs, the Federation and other state and territory CLC associations, continues to raise awareness of the work done by community legal centres and the extent of unmet legal need in Australia. Recent activity by the campaign has gained media coverage of the likely impact of cuts and the advocacy restrictions.
In August, the campaign brought together community legal centre representatives through the 2014 NACLC national conference to gather ideas and hear about experience of individual centres from around Australia.
The session saw many centres affirming the importance of law reform and advocacy work and sharing ideas about how to make sure members of the community know about their services.
New staff at the Federation
The Federation has welcomed two new staff since our last edition. Katie Fraser (pictured left) has started as sector development manager (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), sharing the role with former accreditation coordinator, Cate Edwards, who brings strong sector knowledge and relationships to the role (Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday).
Katie has seven years’ experience in community legal centres, where she has worked as a lawyer, community development manager and project manager at Footscray CLC and more recently at the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre in the ACT where she managed the Street Law program. Katie has also worked with National Legal Aid and the American Bar Association, and brings a strong understanding of the CLC sector and an impressive track record in developing and delivering projects in a CLC or related context.
Lucy Barrow (pictured above right) has started in the Accreditation Coordinator role (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), bringing more than seven years’ experience in policy, strategy and organisational development in a range of areas including family violence and sexual assault, health, education and family services. Lucy has worked for government and as a consultant to the government, community and not-for-profit sectors. Most recently, she has been completing a range of projects for the National Stroke Foundation.
New Federation blog
The Federation has launched its new Community Law Blog
to provide news in a new, clearer format that's easier to read, subscribe to, and engage with through reader comments.
All news stories will now be posted on the blog. Links to the latest posts will also appear on the homepage of the Federation website under Latest News and on the News page, where links to earlier stories will continue to be available.
Media releases will also be posted to the blog under the new media releases category.
Federation newsletters will continue to be available on the Federation website. You can also follow us on Twitter @CommunitylawVic.
Feedback or inquiries regarding Federation news and media should be directed to Darren Lewin-Hill, Communications Manager, on 0488 773 535.
Policy and law reform
No More Deaths campaign launch
On Monday 25 August, family violence advocates gathered on the steps of Parliament Victoria to launch the No More Deaths campaign. The campaign aims to make ending family violence a key issue at the 2014 Victorian State election, with demands for action across five key areas.
Last year in Victoria, 29 women and eight children died due to family violence. You can read more about the launch, watch a presentation by Dr Chris Atmore, and find links to media coverage at the Community Law Blog.
State Budget disappoints
Our State budget media release
noted that, despite additional modest investment in family violence to boost risk assessment and coordinated multi-agency approaches, the budget fell well short of meeting increasing need for support by women and children facing family violence.
The Budget was a missed opportunity to commit vital justice investment to help the increasing number of women and children reporting family violence.
“The Budget allocates a small but welcome investment to support better family violence risk assessment (CRAF, $3m), and new if clearly inadequate funding to coordinate multi-agency approaches to high-risk cases (RAMPs, $4.5m). Overall, however, it falls well short of what’s needed to prevent and address family violence in Victoria,” said Federation Senior Policy Adviser, Dr Chris Atmore.
“Missing from this Budget is urgently needed funding to ensure safety and security at all courts dealing with family violence, and for women leaving court – a potentially fatal risk, as we have recently seen with the tragic death of Fiona Warzywoda," Dr Atmore said.
In responding to concerns raised by a number of family violence stakeholders, the Victorian Government subsequently announced additional $30 million over four years on 30 May 2014.
Federation leads campaign against fail to disclose offence
Earlier this year the Federation led a campaign of 11 family violence and sexual assault advocacy organisations, urging MPs to vote against legislation making it a criminal offence for people to fail to disclose child sexual abuse to police. We said that such an offence could inadvertently cause more harm to children suffering sexual abuse, and was potentially detrimental to women experiencing family violence.
We were also concerned that a proposed defence in the Bill was inadequate to recognise the impact of family violence on women's capacity to safely disclose, and that similar laws in other countries have been used almost exclusively against women who are themselves victims. We advocated that the better public policy approach was to create a narrow criminal offence that did not also capture vulnerable victims, and so should be limited to a failure to disclose by a person in authority within a relevant organisation.
In our view, what Victoria really needs is more resources and training so that non-abusing parents and other people can be supported to safely disclose to police, confident that the child will then receive justice and help.
Our stance was supported by the Opposition and the Greens, but the Bill ultimately passed unamended.
Defensive homicide repealed in Victoria
In 2013 the Federation joined with Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (DVRCV), Monash University’s Dr Danielle Tyson and the Victorian Women’s Trust, in a submission to the Department of Justice consultation on defensive homicide, which was endorsed by 13 other community organisations. That submission drew on research by DVRCV and Monash University, and funded by the Victorian Women’s Trust, which reviewed and assessed the effectiveness of Victoria’s 2005 homicide law reforms, particularly as they relate to family violence, and found that there was a need to retain defensive homicide for female defendants.
However, in June this year the Crimes Amendment (Abolition of Defensive Homicide) Bill 2014 was introduced into Parliament. Accordingly the joint authors wrote to the Attorney-General welcoming the Government’s commitment to improving self-defence laws for women who kill violent partners and legislative amendments reflecting this, but expressing our concerns:
- There is no clear evidence that self-defence can successfully be raised by female defendants at trial.
- Misconceptions about family violence and gendered stereotypes about victims are entrenched in our society and among legal professionals.
- Defensive homicide acts as a 'safety net' partial defence for women who kill violent partners.
- The proposed jury directions have some value in assisting juries to better understand family violence, however the impact of these should not be overestimated.
- Challenging attitudes about family violence within the culture of the criminal justice system and in the community will take a sustained effort over a considerable period of time.
- Taking family violence into account in sentencing if a woman is convicted of murder will not remedy the negative impact of abolishing defensive homicide.
We also drew the Attorney-General’s attention to the case of Angela Williams who was convicted in June 2014 of defensive homicide and received an eight-year sentence. It is likely that without access to defensive homicide, Angela would have been in the same position as Heather Osland and would have received a conviction for murder.
The Greens proposed various amendments to the Bill but it ultimately passed unamended. We are concerned that there will now be no legal safety net in Victoria for victims of family violence who kill. We do not believe that it is just to convict women of murder when they kill to protect themselves or their children from abuse.
Tackling crime the smart way
On 11 September, The Wheeler Centre in partnership with the Human Rights Law Centre and Smart Justice will present Tackling crime the smart way
. This forum will ask how we can cut crime, reduce prison spending and strengthen communities. Presenters include former Victorian State Attorney-General, Rob Hulls; Magistrate, Pauline Spencer; former Corrective Services Commissioner for Queensland, Marlene Morison; ABC Radio National Law Report presenter, Damien Carrick; and Executive Officer of National and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Eddie Cubillo.
Prison spending ineffective and unsustainable
Through our Smart Justice project, the Federation has been active in highlighting the continuing misplaced expenditure on prisons, with the Victorian State Budget papers revealing that the existing prison system will cost nearly $1billion to run over the next year.
The Budget included more than $450m ($454.3m) for nearly 900 new prison beds (871) and work towards a further 300 beds (see media release).
Since the May Budget, the Victorian Government has opened more than 500 new beds across five prisons and the Melbourne Remand Centre, with more than 1500 beds opened since 2011, and 2500 “in the pipeline” (see Minister for Corrections media releases).
Driving Victoria’s prison expansion have been a range of reforms that will increase prison numbers and divert investment from alternative approaches that tackle the causes of crime and promote community safety.
These measures include the introduction of baseline sentencing, and the abolition of suspended sentences in Victoria. Earlier measures included the abolition of home detention, new mandatory minimum four-year terms for gross violence, as well as new restrictions on parole (see Attorney-General media releases). See also Smart Justice media releases.
Ombudsman reports on deaths in custody
Findings from the Victorian Ombudsman’s investigation into deaths in custody
tabled in Parliament in March offered a scathing assessment and an urgent warning of the consequences of further unchecked prison overcrowding. The Federation’s Smart Justice project responded with a media release
resulting in a number of published media comments
. Particularly concerning was the continuing prevalence of hanging points in 37 per cent of cells, despite more than 20 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody highlighted this risk and recommended action.
Smart Justice on the international stage
The Reintegration Puzzle Conference
brings together people working to help people successfully reintegrate into the community after prison. This year’s conference was held in Singapore later in August, with 250 international delegates from the community sector, policy makers, prison staff and researchers attending. The conference invited Smart Justice to present a paper profiling the work of Smart Justice
which has attracted a significant media profile as it attempts to transform the debate about crime and generate safer communities.
Move on laws take effect
Amendments to police powers to move people on from public places took effect from 28 May 2014. These changes expand the kind of situations where police and Protective Services Officers (PSOs) can direct a person to move away from a public place. Changes include the power to direct a person who is picketing, demonstrating, or speaking out or bearing a placard, to move on if they go beyond a legitimate expression of their views by seeking to stop others from entering or leaving a building or place.
The Federation and several member centres raised a number of concerns about the reforms, including concern that the move on powers are so broad that they are prone to be applied in a discriminatory and disproportionate way against young people, people experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable groups.
If you’re interested in learning more about the changes, see VLA’s lawguru.
Congratulations to the thirty-four CLCs that have now received certification under the National CLC Accreditation Scheme. Most other CLCs are well on their way to also being certified under the NAS and will be certified in the coming months.
The National CLC Accreditation Scheme (NAS) is an important element of our work to support excellence in the CLC sector, and we continue to work with CLCs through the accreditation process.
We have welcomed Lucy Barrow as the new Accreditation Coordinator and Lucy will be working on supporting individual CLCs through their workplans and using information from the Scheme to help inform the Sector Development work of the Federation.
Adaptive Leadership update
The Federation of Community Legal Centres, in partnership with leadership expert, Jil Tovey from IKD, ran the fourth Adaptive Leadership Program for CLC staff in March and May 2014.
The program was developed to strengthen the leadership capability in the CLC sector and provide current and future managers with the skills required to build on the performance and relevance of CLCs in an ever-changing environment.
These included stakeholder management and leading and managing performance. The course also investigated innovation in the CLC system. Sixty-seven CLC managers and leaders have now completed the program.
Law Grad Scheme update
We currently have two law graduates participating in the Community Legal Centre Law Graduate Scheme.
Bethany King is currently on placement at Women’s Legal Service and is also spending some of her time at InTouch Legal.
Gemma Cafarella is currently on placement at Justice Connect’s Homeless Person’s Legal Program.
Gemma and Bethany have proved already to be a great asset to the sector. Both graduates will be finishing the Law Graduate Scheme in September this year and we encourage the sector to consider them when recruiting.
A typical day for a lawyer in the Law Graduate Scheme
By Gemma Carafella
One of my favourite parts of the Law Graduate scheme is that there is no typical day. In only ten months I’ve had the opportunity to practice in an incredibly wide variety of legal areas.
I’ve worked in civil litigation against the Police and the State of Victoria with Flemington and Kensington CLC, where I also worked in the wills clinic, practiced in criminal and administrative law, and got a taste of immigration law.
At Loddon Campaspe CLC, I worked as a duty lawyer in the family violence list, ran infringements and family law matters (I never even studied family law!), and advised on everything from fencing disputes to dog registration issues. And now, at Justice Connect Homeless Law, I practice in tenancy, infringements and credit and debt.
It’s been a year of deep-end training, and I’ve been fortunate to have learnt with the support of knowledgeable, supportive and inspiring supervising lawyers and colleagues. I’ve been glad to have spent my first year in centres that emphasise the need for the best possible legal assistance for disadvantaged clients.
Amazing opportunities and quality training, however, are only part of what the program has given me. The most valuable thing for me has been the opportunity to help people. In helping people with their fines, with their criminal matters, with their child custody issues, and with their intervention order applications, I have been constantly touched by my ability to have even the smallest positive impact on people’s lives.
Amy Frew begins as new Law Graduate
In September this year Amy Frew will officially begin her role as the Federation’s Law Graduate. Amy will gain some amazing experience and insights to the sector whilst undertaking her placements at Goulburn Valley CLC, Inner Melbourne Legal, and the Human Rights Law Centre.
Amy will be building on her experiences in the CLC sector as a volunteer at Flemington Kensington CLC and with the case work team and human rights law team at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, VLA and Melbourne Journal of International Law. She worked as an intern at Waller Legal and has also interned at the Federation, VLA and Flemington Kensington CLC, as well as winning the Chief Justice’s Medal for Excellence and Community Service in 2014.
Amy started her PLT at Leo Cussen in January and will commence her 12-month law graduate secondments in CLCs in September.
Information about the scheme, including information about how to apply in 2015, is available here.
- Wrap up of the National CLCs Conference, including the winners of the Twitter competition for best message (what CLCs mean to ME)
- Policy and Advocacy Update, including an update on the National Partnership Agreement and National Strategic Framework
- Call for volunteers for the Review of the Financial Management Guide
- New tool from Management Support Online about Annual General Meetings
- knowmore –- update from the opening of its newest office.
Highlights of media coverage of the Federation and the Smart Justice project May-September 2014
Dr Chris Atmore on new family violence technology measures, ABC 774 Melbourne Faine, 30 July 2014
Ograzden police shooting inquest, ABC TV News Victoria, 4 July 2014
CLCs in the media
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