We need family violence community lawyers in every Magistrates court – CLA

Media Opportunity Community Law Australia Spokesperson Carolyn Bond and Women’s Legal Service Victoria community lawyer Abigail Sullivan will hold a press conference outside the Magistrates’ Court 1:15pm, Monday 13 May 2013 Magistrates’ Court 233 William Street, Melbourne

Community Law Australia today called for family violence lawyers in every Magistrates’ Court across the country, to reflect the strong demand for tailored services for vulnerable women and children.

In Victoria, community legal centres have seen a 71 per cent increase over the last 5 years of cases opened or advice given on family violence issues.

Community Law Australia spokesperson Carolyn Bond said that people in regional and remote areas, renters, consumers of financial services and flood or fire victims can all find themselves with problems – but can’t always get the legal help they need.

“We are calling for a range of measures to address what we see as a crisis in access to justice. Centres across the country are facing high levels of demand for their services, and unless we act to increase access to justice – people will continue to miss out.

“In Victoria, most Magistrates’ courts have community lawyers to assist with family violence applications, but they can’t help everybody. These highly skilled lawyers are struggling to meet the demand for their help.

“However, in most other States many women have to face court alone and can encounter a confusing and unsupportive legal system.

“Sadly not every court, particularly in regional areas, has a dedicated community lawyer or facilities to deal with women who have experienced family violence – we’d like to see this change as part of our broader 5 point plan to increase access to justice,” said Ms Bond.

Women’s Legal Service Victoria’s lawyer Abigail Sullivan said that their daily family violence service at the Magistrates’ Court rarely had a slow day.

“I spend my day supporting family violence victims and helping them navigate the intervention order process. Without my assistance women would have to go into court alone and negotiate directly with their abuser.

“In some courts the number of people assisting legal assistance in intervention order cases is overwhelming, and not everyone can get the legal representation they need.

“In regional courts the lack of safe waiting areas for victims is also a real problem. I know of one instance where a community lawyer saw her client in her car, because it was the only safe place,” said Ms Sullivan.

Community Law Australia spokesperson Carolyn Bond: “Unless we act to close the gaps in areas where access to legal help is poor, many Australians will continue to miss out.

“Our plan calls for a range of initiatives that will help to improve access to justice for people that find themselves in legal trouble – for problems as diverse as debt, workplace bullying, family violence, consumer issues and tenancy,” said Ms Bond.

Community Law Australia’s plan to increase access to justice is as follows:

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