Community legal centres responding to the COVID-19 health crisis
Victoria’s 48 community legal centres work closely with local communities across the state to support people with a range of legal and other issues.
We work with schools, hospitals, health services, housing organisations and family violence services. We bring the law into these community settings and put it to use for solving people’s problems and improving people’s lives. Community law ties together housing, health, employment, human rights, family violence and consumer support.
Community legal centres were on the frontline of the bushfires earlier this year, with CLCs in affected areas and volunteers from other areas coming together to provide assistance to locals.
Adapting service delivery to meet need under changing conditions
Now, we are adapting to a fast-changing health crisis with coronavirus changing the lives of everyone, particularly more vulnerable members of the community.
Victorian community legal centres have responded quickly to make sure staff, volunteers and clients are kept safe as the first priority. Government heath advice has been implemented and the majority of staff are now working remotely from their offices.
The community need at a time like this is greater than ever so the challenge has been to adapt existing services to work in line with changing health advice on social distancing, self-isolation and huge pressure on our health system.
Changes include new health screening processes, fast adoption of telephone and video for client interviews and court appearances, virtual offices where lawyers can securely access case files and take calls via telephone advice lines, and exploring the online delivery of legal education, training and community connection programs.
Advocating with Government and others on emerging issues
Community legal centres are also on the frontline of advocacy around emerging issues and their solutions.
Strong advocacy is occurring with the Victorian Government around the impact of coronavirus on Victorians in a number of areas, including tenancy law, justice system processes, prisons and youth detention centres, fines and infringements, and consumer protections.
The Federation and a group of legal centres have created joint positions on actions needed to reduce risk and manage COVID-19 in our prisons and youth detention facilities. This includes a strong focus on women, children and groups at high risk from coronavirus. We are working through the various issues with the Victorian Attorney-General and Minister for Corrections
The Federation is also working with legal centres and community advocates to develop joint positions on tenancy issues as well as infringements/fines issues to make sure evictions and debt collection activities aren’t putting people at risk during the crisis. Discussions with the Minister for Housing, Minister for Consumer Affairs and the Attorney-General are continuing.
Other areas where community legal centres are standing up for our community include family violence responses during COVID-19, consumer issues, refugees, social security payments and access, and employment issues.
Community legal centres are on the front lines during this crisis
Community legal centres and the strong partnerships we have in the community across issues and sectors are playing a critical role in safeguarding the community during the current health crisis.
We will keep playing this role and working to keep our local communities – and the wider community – safe, healthy and able to access justice when they need it.