December 15, 2020 | Federation Administration
Victim-survivors of family violence will be better supported and protected from future harm under today’s State Government funding announcement for the legal assistance sector, Federation of Community Legal Centres CEO Serina McDuff said.
Ms McDuff said family violence was first and foremost a safety issue, and the legal assistance sector, including Community Legal Centres (CLC) and Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) played a fundamental role in creating and enforcing the formal structures that keep women and children safe and preventing abusers from causing further harm.
“CLCs provide the free legal support needed by family violence victim-survivors and the wrap-around support they provide are an essential part of any effective response to family violence,” she said.
“This investment by the Andrews Government enables lawyers to spend more time with people so that they can understand the legal advice provided to them, contributing to safer outcomes and fewer breaches of Family Violence Intervention Orders (FVIOs).”
The government announced the $23.1 million funding to provide greater flexibility for court and justice initiatives to better support victim-survivors of family violence.
The Model provides support to victim-survivors before any court hearings, recognising that a client’s legal and non-legal issues extend beyond just their time in court.
As part of the funding, the Government will invest $7.8 million to expand the pioneering specialist family violence legal services model, which has been successfully piloted at the Frankston Magistrate’s Court in partnership with Peninsula Community Legal Centre, VLA, Victoria Police and the courts.
Since the onset of COVID-19, the Federation and CLCs have been working with VLA, Victoria’s court systems and Victoria Police to improve the accessibility of courts and access to legal assistance. At the height of the pandemic, more than 63% of clients attending Community Legal Centres were at risk of or currently impacted by family violence.
In November, the Federation called for greater pre-court engagement and more client-focused referral services in its plan - A Just and Equitable COVID Recovery - A Community Legal Sector Plan for Victoria.
Under a pre-court model people receive early advice before court, resulting in greater clarity for all parties and safer outcomes for victim-survivors.
Often matters can be resolved prior to attending court, significantly reducing the demand on Victoria’s already busy Courts.
Affected family members have greater say in decisions about their own safety and the wellbeing of their families, while respondents can be held to account and can get a better understanding of the terms of Family Violence Intervention Orders and their obligations.
Ms McDuff said as well as helping victim-survivors of family violence, early legal assistance provided an opportunity to address related issues such as parenting arrangements, tenancy disputes and visa issues and would help free up court backlogs.
“This investment ensures that access to justice is not sacrificed in the rush to process matters. Our members will be able to respond to a victim-survivor’s needs and attempt to address court backlog through early intervention,” she said.
“It also means victim-survivors can have their non-legal needs identified as community legal services work in partnership with housing, family violence and drug and alcohol support services.
“Better access to legal assistance can help ensure the best and most sustainable outcomes for FVIO matters, it can help tailor orders to the needs of the parties as appropriate to ensure that both parties understand the implications of the order.
“Most importantly, this funding announcement allows for better support services for victim-survivors which will lead to better, safer outcomes for the many Victorian families affected by family violence.
“We look forward to working with our colleagues across the legal and justice sector to implement these improvements.”