Media Release: Community lawyers at frontline of family violence call for Government support

Today, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, is an opportunity to acknowledge the vital work that Community Legal Centres do to help women and children experiencing family violence.

“Community Legal Centres across Australia provide free legal help to hundreds of thousands of women and girls experiencing family violence” said Dan Stubbs, National Spokesperson of the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC).

“We help with immediate issues such as safety planning and protection orders as well as other issues related to the violence such as family law, credit and debt, problems with Centrelink, tenancy disputes, and employment issues” he said.

“Through our Health Justice Partnerships we provide free legal help to women who attend medical appointments. So often this is the only chance for a woman experiencing family violence to leave the house alone, and so getting them immediate assistance in that window is crucial” he added.

Women’s Legal Services are specialist Community Legal Centres that provide assistance to women experiencing legal problems arising from family violence and relationship breakdown.

“On days like today it is important to reflect the key role Women’s Legal Services play in helping victim survivors of family violence” said Agata Wierzbowski, National Law Reform Coordinator for Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA).

“Every day we help women access safety, help with immediate and long-term legal issues arising out of family violence, and in some cases save women’s lives” added Ms Wierzbowski.

“However, we can’t begin to address family violence without addressing the problems in our family law system. That’s why WLSA, together with Rosie Batty, have developed a 5-Step Plan to Safety First in Family Law” she said.

“One part of that Plan is to ensure adequate funding for family violence services, including Community Legal Centres” Ms Wierzbowski added.

“It is timely that this year’s theme for today is ‘Orange the world: raise money to end violence against women and girls’ given that CLCs across Australia will face a 30% funding cliff from 1 July next year” said Mr Stubbs.

“We are set to lose almost $35 million over the next few years nationally. This will mean that women and children experiencing family violence won’t get the legal help they need”.

“Starting today, the next 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence are a pertinent reminder to the Federal Government of the urgency of this issue and the importance of working with the sector to reverse the funding cliff and ensure women across Australia get this vital legal help” concluded Mr Stubbs.

To arrange an interview or for more information contact:                

Daniel Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson, 0437 253 543
Agata Wierzbowski, WLSA National Law Reform Coordinator, 0431 975 770
Amanda Alford, NACLC Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645

For more information about the Orange the World Campaign see: UNiTE to End Violence

Innovative community legal service in women’s hospital helps to stop family violence

Community Law Australia today commended the work being done to address family violence by North Melbourne Legal Service and the Royal Women’s Hospital (the Women’s) through their innovative legal assistance outreach project Acting on the Warning Signs.

The project, funded by the Legal Services Board major grants program as well as in-kind support from Herbert Smith Freehills, aims to build the capacity and willingness of health professionals to identify family violence and provide basic information to patients who require it.

Since December 2012, training has been provided to over 125 staff including 27 doctors to empower them to identify signs of family violence and offer referral and assistance. Between 1 August 2012 and 1 November 2013 legal advice was given to 73 patients on site at the Women’s by lawyers from North Melbourne Legal Service.

Dr Fleur Llewelyn, Manager of Clinical Education at the Royal Women’s Hospital said she was proud of the achievements made by the pilot program thus far.

“By having a lawyer available on-site, women are able to access information about their rights and entitlements within the safety of the hospital,” she said.

“Women who are in situations where they may be experiencing chronic abuse and violence are able to attend the hospital for an antenatal appointment and see a lawyer who can provide them with advice about their rights and entitlements, including information about intervention orders and family law.

“This is a powerful opportunity to empower women to take steps to escape a violent situation.”

Community Law Australia spokesperson Carolyn Bond said the success of the program indicated that there may be scope for similar partnerships between community legal centres and health providers.

“Legal problems often occur in conjunction with social, economic or health problems, so it makes sense for legal and non-legal services to work together – particularly in helping deal with complex issues like family violence.

“This is just one example of CLCs working well with other service providers to help solve connected legal, social, health and financial problems. This work is taking quality legal assistance one step further by delivering our legal services in partnerships and in locations which work best for the people who need our help.

“A recent survey of Victorian CLCs found that the vast majority of CLCs delivered legal services alongside other community services. Whether it is at a rural community health service, in conjunction with financial counselling services or at drug and alcohol clinic, this innovative CLC work is about early intervention and prevention and helping people holistically. Access to justice research strongly suggests this is the way to go,” Ms Bond said.

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