Free Legal services for young people under threat

Young people across Australia should be celebrating the opportunity to ‘Be The Future’ this National Youth Week says the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC), not worrying about their legal problems or the ability to pay bills for a legal issue that won’t go away.

Community Legal Centres (CLCs) provide free legal help to children and young people across Australia. In 2015, CLCs assisted over 74,000 young people between 18-34 years and over 3,500 young people under 18 years. CLCs also provide free legal help to parents and others on issues affecting children, including over 3,300 advices on child protection issues and over 4,000 advices on child support last year” said Rosslyn Monro, NACLC Chairperson.

The Youth Advocacy Centre is a specialist CLC based in Brisbane. “We provide a range of services including legal advice and referrals to young people in the youth justice and child protection systems, and information and support to young people appearing in courts and tribunals, including a duty lawyer service at the Brisbane Children’s Court” said Janet Wight, Director, Youth Advocacy Centre.

“As well as providing court/casework to young people, we also run community legal education in schools and in the community which is crucial in letting young people know what their legal rights are, and what to do if they have a legal problem.”

The young people we help are extremely vulnerable. For example, last year 44% of our legal services clients were not living at home; 50% of our legal, youth support and family support clients had a past or current substance use problem; 45% of family support clients had a past or current mental health problem; and 77% of our bail support clients were known to Child Safety Services. Our service is crucial in ensuring that these young people get the advice and support they need,” Ms Wight said.

“At Youthlaw we are co-located with other youth services. We assist vulnerable young people who would otherwise not seek out legal help by themselves. They come from backgrounds of family breakdown, family violence, neglect and disadvantage. Most have been in families that have had no intervention from child protection system and are largely invisible to the community. We assist with their fines, debts, mistreatment and interactions with authorities. They are so thankful for our help. For once they feel the support and protection of the law instead of fearing its use against them. Legal help along with other services makes a big difference and allows them to get on with their lives,” said Ariel Couchman, Director of Youthlaw, based in Melbourne.

CLCs use a range of innovative tools to engage with children and young people. For example, the

2014 National Census of Community Legal Centres indicated that almost 20 percent of CLCs that responded use skype to provide legal advice and over 16 percent use Youtube to provide community legal education.

Youthlaw in Melbourne is an example of one of those CLCs that uses skype to reach out to its clients. Ms Couchman said “our skype legal service throughout regional Victoria reaches out to vulnerable young people where there is high disadvantage and few services and supports. This service is simple & cost effective and works with those most in need yet we struggle every year to get funding to keep it going.”

“However, CLCs across Australia face a 30% funding cut to Federal funding from 1 July next year. That sort of cut will have a significant impact on the ability of CLCs to help children and young people who need our help” added Rosslyn Monro, NACLC Chairperson.

As a result, this National Youth Week, NACLC reiterates its call for:

  1. Reversal of the Commonwealth funding cuts to CLCs under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance amounting to $34.83 million from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2020
  2. An immediate injection of $200 million per year into the broader legal assistance service system, as recommended by the Productivity Commission, which should be shared between the Commonwealth (60%) and the States and Territories (40%). This should equate to at least an additional $24 million per year allocated to CLCs ($14.4 million p.a. Commonwealth and $9.6 million p.a. from States and Territories); and
  3. A commitment by all levels of Government to implementing an appropriate process for determining adequate and sustainable longer-term funding contributions for legal assistance in consultation with the sector.

Open the link to view the PDF: Free Legal services for young people under threat

 To arrange an interview or for more information please contact:

 Rosslyn Monro, NACLC Chairperson, 0407 633 084
Jackie Levett, Media Officer, 0434 995 611
Janet Wight, Director, Youth Advocacy Centre (Brisbane), 07 3356 1002
Ariel Couchman, Director, Youthlaw (Melbourne), 0438 812 937

 

Media Roundup Fund Equal Justice Campaign 14-16 March 2016

 

Monday 14 March

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Budget cuts to free legal help hit vulnerable and isolated Victorians

Vulnerable people in outer-suburban and regional Victoria are less likely to get the legal help they need as Federal Government cuts to community legal centres roll out nationally.

“As the human impact of these cuts emerges, it’s becoming clear that they’re hitting vulnerable and isolated Victorians, people who are already missing out and who need help the most,” said Carolyn Bond AO, national spokesperson for Community Law Australia, today.

In addition to $19.6 million cuts to community legal centres nationally, announced last December, there was an additional $6 million cut in the recent Federal Budget. Ms Bond said that despite the Federal Government’s claims that the cuts would not hit frontline services, this was exactly what was happening.

“Victorian community legal centres will either need to reduce the number of lawyers available to help people, turn away more people seeking help, limit the range of problems they can address, or restrict the regional areas they can cover,” Ms Bond said.

Two of the fourteen affected organisations are in regional Victoria, seven in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, and three are statewide specialist legal services.

Services likely to be affected by the cuts include:

• Family violence lawyers helping people with intervention orders;
• Specialist legal advice for regional and remote young people;
• Legal help across high-need, complex, and culturally diverse regional areas.

Lisa Maree Stevens of the Murray Mallee Community Legal Centre, said funding cuts would likely mean that 80–100 vulnerable clients, including Aboriginal women, would miss out on legal help each year if the centre had to cut back on its intervention order assistance and outreach.

“We cover a large geographic area, and our lawyers visit a number of disadvantaged communities, as well as a number of regional courts. When we have to cut back these services next year, there are no other services to pick up this vital work,” Ms Stevens said today.

Ariel Couchman from Youthlaw said their Skype program had been very successful, delivering legal help to young people who couldn’t physically get to services in the big towns and cities.

“The disadvantaged young people we help are facing very tough times in regional and remote Victoria. They are often reluctant to seek help even with homelessness and other serious social problems. Even fewer will do so if our Skype legal advice service is reduced as a result of these cuts,” Ms Couchman said.

Peter Noble from the Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre said the centre was likely to lose one of its three lawyers, who provide legal help across northern central Victoria stretching from Seymour to the Murray River, including the City of Greater Shepparton, one of Australia’s most complex, needy and culturally rich communities.

“We work with other local services to help people address underlying problems, prevent further legal issues arising, and relieve pressure on the courts and legal system. The disadvantaged people we help are usually not equipped to deal with their legal problems on their own, but funding cuts will mean that some of these people will miss out,” Mr Noble said.

Michael Smith from the Eastern Community Legal Centre said funding cuts placed their new services in the Yarra Ranges, and their family violence work, at serious risk. He said both these services had been provided in response to areas of high legal need.

“Without funding, our services must be reduced and people in need will miss out,” Mr Smith said.

“Even before these damaging cuts, community legal centres were already grossly underfunded and struggled to meet increasing demand for help with serious legal problems from people unable to afford a private lawyer. These cuts will only make that situation worse,” Ms Bond said.

“We know that community legal centres are already very efficient in the help they provide, and that nationally at least 500,000 Australians miss out on legal help every year. The answer is funding community legal centres properly to meet increasing need, not cutting their funding,” Ms Bond said.

Further information

Brandis ties NGO funding to non-advocacy

Brandis restrictions starting tomorrow seek to silence community legal centres speaking out on unfair laws, policies and practices

Last chance to be heard for law services, fighting to protect the most vulnerable

Advocacy and frontline services vital to achieve access to justice

Federal budget cuts to community legal centres in the news

Economic benefit of community legal centres strong, says cost benefit analysis

Community legal centres accuse Federal Government of gagging

Download this media release (PDF)

To arrange an interview

Darren Lewin-Hill on 0488 773 535