May 25, 2020 |
WEstjustice is a community legal centre that provides free legal help to people across the western suburbs of Melbourne, including a number of justice partnerships delivering specialist support.
It provides legal advice and representation, legal education and advocates for fairer laws and greater access to justice.
The coronavirus health crisis was felt heavily across communities in the western suburbs with large numbers of people losing their incomes and adapting to restrictions on movement and social contact.
WEstjustice quickly moved all staff to remote working arrangements, suspending ‘in person’ services at the offices in Footscray, Sunshine and Werribee. It overcame challenges around phone advice, email, legal files and client contact using a range of technology platforms. Staff adapted quickly to new ways of working.
Chief Executive Melissa Hardham said the crisis put the organisation under a great deal of pressure initially, but has also opened up new opportunities.
“Because of the wide range of services we offer throughout the west, we had to do a lot of work quickly to adapt to the new situation. Our lawyers created tele-appointments, virtual legal clinics and virtual drop-ins by working with partners who were maintaining face-to-face programs.”
“An example of that would be our youth clinics at the Youth Resources Centre and Sunshine Visy Cares Hub. Although we are not offering face-to-face services, we are still available at the usual times as if it was a drop-in program and staff of those programs can contact us as needed just like we were in the same room or across the corridor.”
“We are also working closely with the courts to ensure the clients we would normally see due to family violence issues can access to our lawyers as quickly as possible when they require legal advice for court hearings. This is still a work in progress due to limitations of the Courts remote functionality”
“Similarly with our health justice partnerships where a lawyer would normally attend a hospital or shelter, we are providing opportunities to connect patients and clients on days that we would normally offer services. We want people to be able to contact us with the least effort.”
WEstjustice has increased their capacity in some areas due to greater demand, such as support for international students as well as advice around employment and housing issues.”
“We have also been active in advocating around tenancy protections, a freeze on fines and debt collection, and inequities in the emergency rules and how they are being enforced.”
“The staff at WEstjustice have shown their leadership and commitment to our community through adversity. Community legal centres are very important at a time like this.”
WEstjustice can be contacted 9.30 - 5pm Monday to Friday on 9749 7720. Visit their website at www.westjustice.org.au for more information.