Vulnerable women and children need better access to free legal help, earlier

Community Law Australia today urged State and Federal governments to increase access to community legal services to ensure a more effective and supportive response to family violence in Victoria.

Figures released today by the Victorian Federation of Community Legal Centres show that family violence is the most common issue community legal centres help Victorians with. Demand for family violence prevention legal services has soared, with services increasing 70 per cent over the past five years.

Community lawyers provide advice and representation on family violence and relationship breakdown and have duty lawyers in courts across the state helping vulnerable women obtain intervention orders.

Community Law Australia spokesperson Hugh de Kretser said that one of the barriers for vulnerable women and children was the fear of speaking out.

“When women seek help from the legal system, it is vital that they receive an appropriate response. At the moment, this response is being compromised by the pressure on the system, and this creates risks that women won’t get the help they need.

“The demand for help getting an intervention order has soared. Community lawyers in courts across the state are under enormous pressure. We want to be able to help vulnerable women earlier, and provide more detailed assistance, but due to lack of funding we are sometimes only able to see women for 15 minutes before their court hearing. We need a better, more appropriate response.”

“The tragic case of Sargun Ragi highlights the need to ensure the system works properly to protect women facing violence. We need to make sure the system is properly resourced, across domestic violence services, police, courts and community legal services. No system is failsafe but with proper resourcing, we can increase protection and reduce the risks of intervention order breaches.

“The legal system is complex and difficult to navigate. We need to ensure that vulnerable women and children are given the very best set of tools to ensure they are safe and their rights are protected.

“It is also vital that the Victorian Government fund the Coroners Court Systemic Review of Family Violence Deaths, which seeks to learn from tragedies like Sargun Ragi’s case, to prevent future deaths from occurring. The future of this prevention unit is currently in doubt.