Projected family violence spike urges calls for better access to free legal help, earlier

Community Law Australia today urged the Victorian government to increase access to community legal services to ensure a more effective early response to family violence across the State.

Chief Commissioner Ken Lay’s concern expressed in The Age that family violence cases for 2012–13 could reach up to 64,000 (The Age, Monday April 22) will have major repercussions for Victoria’s courts and legal system, and further increase pressure on over-stretched community legal centres helping women address family violence effectively, safely and at the earliest possible stage.

Family violence is the most common issue on which community legal centres help Victorians. Demand for family violence legal services has soared, with services increasing 70 per cent over the past five years.

Campaign spokesperson Carolyn Bond said that one of the barriers to just outcomes for vulnerable women and children was the fear of speaking out.

“Our concern is that vulnerable women receive affordable legal help too late. If access to free legal advice through community legal centres was easier and more readily available, these services could help to ensure that family violence issues were dealt with in a supportive and legally efficient way,” said Ms Bond.

“Given the rise in family violence cases there is a strong argument for increasing measures to offer greater levels of protection to women and children in this difficult position, such as protected spaces in courts and earlier access to community legal centres through increased funding to meet rapidly rising demand.

“The legal system is complex and difficult to navigate. We need to ensure that vulnerable women and children are safe and their rights are protected.

“The legal system in Victoria is already under a great deal of pressure – with a projected increase in family violence, we need to ensure that vulnerable women and children are gaining full access to the support and legal assistance they need early enough to make a difference,” said Ms Bond.

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