Family violence rate prompts call for more community lawyers

Community Law Australia has today called on the Tasmanian state government to increase funding for Community Legal Centres amid concern around the rate of family violence.

Carolyn Bond, Community Law Australia spokesperson, said the prevalence of family violence issues and limited access to legal help was a main driver behind the campaign’s call for community lawyers in every court across the state.

“More than 600 Tasmanians, mostly women, make a family violence application to the court each year, seeking an order to protect their safety. Police statistics show that an additional 2,500 12-month family violence orders are issued each year to women in need,” Ms Bond said.

“And many of these victims don’t have access to legal help.

“The cases that are reported to police are just the tip of the iceberg because the dynamics of a controlling relationship can mean women are actually in greater danger if they report.

“Community lawyers are a vital asset at courts to advise and represent those who are seeking family violence orders. But there just aren’t enough resources to represent all the women who need help.

“While some may get help from a free duty lawyer, others may find that there is no lawyer on duty at the court, or even if there is, the lawyer doesn’t have time to help everyone. Whether or not they get help is luck of the draw.

“We estimate that those individuals who take action are a very small proportion of those experiencing family violence. It’s crucial if women do come forward that legal help is available to them.

Ms Bond said that everyone who approaches the court for a family violence order should be able to access legal help.

“It is extremely stressful time, and can be difficult to make decisions. Part of encouraging people to come forward is letting them know that legal advice is there when they need it,” she said.

Women’s Legal Service Tasmania CEO, Susan Fahey, said the lack of funding for CLCs to undertake duty law work in this area was a big problem in the state.

“Even where there may be a duty lawyer at court, they can be very busy. Women’s Legal Service has seen women who have been to court for family violence applications and missed out on getting any assistance at all,” Ms Fahey said.

“The facts speak for themselves. The cost of domestic violence has been estimated at $13.6 billion per year to the Australian economy.

“Women’s Legal Service helps more than 1,000 women each year, but we estimate that many more miss out on the legal help they need.

“We are seeing an increasing number of family violence applications come through the courts.

“Family violence is currently one of the biggest problems facing Tasmanians, and increased funding and better resources are needed to provide access to the legal system.”

Ms Bond said that in some other states, state funding enables community lawyers to be available at the court specifically to help with family violence matters.

“We don’t believe that anyone should have to do this alone. The Tasmanian Government lags behind most other states in the commitment it makes to providing legal help those most in need,” Ms Bond said.

“We encourage the Tasmanian Government to make a commitment to victims of family violence in Tasmania, that legal help will be available to those seeking it during a crucial time.”

MEDIA: To arrange an interview with Carolyn Bond or Susan Fahey please contact Jackie Hanafie on 0410 631 404.

Download this media release (PDF).