Strengthening community legal services for a thriving Victoria
The Federation of Community Legal Centres and Community Legal Centres across Victoria want the same thing the State Government wants and the same thing the general community wants – to live in a fair and equitable society where all Victorians feel valued and can grow and thrive.
We know access to a fair and just legal system is at the heart of an equitable community. We know that legal issues can play a devastating role in a person’s ability to function. And we know that by helping people to resolve their legal problems early we can reduce the impact they can have on people’s lives and can stem the flow of compounding issues that often arise when legal challenges are not addressed early.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for legal assistance has escalated as people experience financial hardship, unemployment, evictions, family violence and mental health issues. Unfortunately, legal problems caused by the pandemic have disproportionately affected the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in our community.
And demand for legal assistance continues to significantly outstrip the availability of services.
Without additional funding, it is anticipated Victorian Community Legal Centres will be forced to turn away at least 20,000 requests for legal assistance in the coming financial year.
Now, more than ever, Victorians who are marginalised or living with disadvantage need access to the community legal services that can help them resolve legal problems quickly and effectively.
This year, we have split our Budget submission in two to better reflect the urgency for increased funding for services specifically designed to help those impacted by family violence.
Our asks: General
- Invest in Community Legal Centres in Victoria to meet existing need for legal assistance and to address the continued rise in demand brought about by the pandemic and widening inequality.
- Expand Community Legal Centres’ integrated legal services, with wrap-around support to help more people with complex issues.
- Enable Community Legal Centres to build the evidence base and improve the quality of community legal sector support and outcomes for Victorians most at risk of injustice through increased monitoring and evaluation capacity.
- Build a workforce for the future through a dedicated graduate program for community lawyering.
- Prepare regional centres to better respond to legal need arising from natural disasters to help residents and communities get back on their feet more quickly following a natural disaster.
- Coordinate community legal sector responses to the government’s mental health reforms.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an acute impact on women and children experiencing family violence and has led to rising rates of family violence across Victoria. In addition, there is a significant backlog of family violence matters in Magistrates’ Courts arising from the pandemic. As a result, demand for legal assistance for victim survivors continues to rise.
Now, more than ever, victim survivors of family violence need access to community services to help them to remain safe and reduce the risk of ongoing violence.
An integrated family violence response is essential if we are to keep women and children safe from family violence and ensure perpetrators are held accountable. Community legal services form a critical part of the family violence support system.
Without further investment, Community Legal Centres will struggle to meet the need and many victim survivors will be unable to access critical legal support. This will have a devastating impact on the safety and wellbeing of victim survivors, who will be left to navigate high risk situations alone.
Investing in Community Legal Centres to provide family violence related legal assistance is vital in creating a safer Victoria, where every person is protected and has the opportunity to live free from violence.
Our asks: Family violence
- We are seeking an additional boost of funding over four years to increase the capacity of Community Legal Centres to provide legal assistance to victim survivors of family violence, particularly given the significant court backlog.
- We are seeking the continuation of the lapsing funding under the CLC Family Violence and Assistance Fund at the same level over four years.
- We are seeking additional investment to expand the Legal Services in The Orange Door pilot to ensure it can occur in both regional and metropolitan locations, and to embed community legal services in The Orange Door network.
- We are seeking a continuation of, and increase in, funding in the Early Resolution Service/Pre-Court Engagement model at Magistrate’s Courts in Victoria.
- We are seeking additional resourcing for Community Legal Centres to provide legal assistance at the new Specialist Family Violence Courts.
Investing in Community Legal Centres is vital if we truly want to create a fair and equal Victoria where every person belongs and can learn, grow, heal, participate and be heard.