“31 years ago I was a young and green work experience student who was fortunate enough to obtain a placement at Frankston North Legal Service in the Pines. It was here the seed was planted; this was what I wanted to do with my life. Following a long road to a law degree and many years as a community lawyer, here I am as the Director of Legal Services.
Peninsula Community Legal Centre is almost unrecognisable from those early years. Through the tireless work and commitment of many people over the past 40 years the offices have become flashier and the team much larger but the underlying premise for our existence remains; to provide legal support and assistance to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community.” Kate Ross, Director of Legal Services
The past twelve months have been tumultuous with the Centre experiencing major changes. While the internal changes settle we are not resting on our laurels. We are continuing to develop a practice where the client is the focal point. With an emphasis on family violence, we recognise that making contact with the Centre is often very difficult for those experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage. To this end, we are continuing to develop our ‘wrap around’ practice where in depth casework is being undertaken. To the best of our ability we try to deal with the client within the Centre itself or by a streamlined referral process.
FAMILY LAW & FAMILY VIOLENCE
In collaboration with Victoria Legal Aid two exciting initiatives have been developed, recognising the strong interrelationship between family Law and family violence. These initiatives arise within the context of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, Family Law Legal Aid Services Review and the third action plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022.
The Family Violence to Family Law Continuity Pilot provides ongoing family law advice, casework and representation services for separating parents experiencing family violence; particularly applicants or respondents to Family Violence Intervention Order matters at the Magistrates’ Courts. Priority client groups such as people on low incomes, children, young people and women experiencing or at risk of family violence, people with language or cultural barriers, indigenous Australians, homeless people and those with disabilities are prioritised as a requirement of the Pilot. This project has enabled our Family Law team to take matters from beginning to end providing a full service to those clients most in need.
The Family Advocacy and Support Services Scheme provides an integrated duty lawyer and family violence support service in the family law courts’ registries nationwide to improve services for families affected by family violence.
The Scheme has enabled PCLC to employ a second duty lawyer to attend the Federal Circuit Court at Dandenong (FCC), thus enhancing PCLC’s duty lawyer capacity with the provision of family law duty services to those experiencing family violence.
Importantly, FASS requires PCLC’s duty lawyers to work closely with staff from VLA, the FCC Registry, and family violence support services with the triaging of client matters and the provision of duty services. This is resulting in better integration of legal and social services and hence improved client outcomes. The two new family law initiatives fit well into PCLC’s client focused practised model.
Our duty services at the Federal Circuit Court and Frankston Magistrates’ Court in the Family Violence List remain extremely busy. Over the last twelve months we have seen increased interaction and collaboration between our practice groups. We have lawyers from our Intervention Order duty service referring clients to the Tenancy program, where the order impacts upon a lease, and to our generalist program for criminal and civil matters arising from the experience of family violence. Our family violence lawyers and our family lawyers are often running matters together, ensuring that the client has the necessary support in both jurisdictions.
Our fines clinic continues to attract huge demand for its services. Since its commencement in February 2016 the clinic has seen in excess of 950 clients and opened over 260 files, through this we have assisted clients with more than $7.5 million worth of fines, which is mind blowing. PCLC has been working to raise awareness of the effect the infringement system has on our community; with mainstream media such as ‘A Current Affair’ and ‘ABC radio’ highlighting the work of our clinic and how the system disproportionately impacts the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Many clients who access our services for other legal matters will also have issues with infringements, particularly toll fines as they are such a pervasive problem within our catchment. Thanks to the clinic there is a seamless referral without the client have to retell their stories or relive their trauma.
Over the past 40 years PCLC has developed an effective and vibrant volunteer program. Currently, we have over 120 legal and non-legal volunteers. In any week there are seven volunteer advice sessions that provide an avenue for intake, in addition to our phone intake service operating four days a week. These services run smoothly, thanks to the fantastic efforts of all staff and volunteers, past and present, involved in the development and continual refinement of the program. We will continue to adapt the program to meet the changing needs of our clients. Our appreciation for all our volunteers cannot be emphasised enough.
TENANCY & CONSUMER AFFAIRS VICTORIA
The demand on our Tenancy Program remains heavy, with our advocates working diligently to manage it, through duty services at Frankston, Dandenong and Dromana and appointments available at all our branches. Sadly, this year saw the end of our Consumer Program and Rooming House Project. The Consumer Program provided a dedicated service assisting clients to navigate the consumer law and to ensure their rights and interests were protected. General Practice continues to provide consumer advice but our capacity to run on an on-going basis is significantly reduced. The end of the Rooming House Project means that we no longer have two part-time workers heading out to all the rooming houses in our large catchment providing information to residents and collecting data to support law reform in the area.
Underlying our legal services is our wonderful social work program which takes referrals from right across the practice. Our Social Worker provides short-term (3 -6 months) support for our clients and their non-legal problems. These issues frequently impact upon their ability to deal with their legal problems. This service often continues to support the client after the legal matters have been finalised.
COMMUNITY LEGAL EDUCTION & LAW REFORM
An important role of Community Legal Centres is to educate their communities about their rights and responsibilities and how they navigate the legal system. Our CLE and Community Development activities are focused around us reaching out to our clients, being proactive rather than reactive. This has seen us providing CLE in a variety of forms.
We have taken Legal Lingo Bingo to Psychiatric units and DOA rehabilitation facilities, participated in a Bring Your Bills Day at Frankston North and had a stall at the Aging Well Expo. We provided community legal education to family violence workers and support groups, school students, separating parents and seniors groups. We also became radio stars with regular appearances on RPP FM – The Voice of the Peninsula, covering information about Wills and Powers of Attorney, Elder abuse, Consumer issues and Neighbourhood disputes.
PCLC has recognised that the most in need in our community will not necessarily come to us and we just have to go to them. To this end PCLC are now running a School Lawyer Program that offers weekly appointments at Mahogany Rise and Aldercourt Primary Schools in Frankston North. Our clients are also benefitting from our good relationship with the Family Mediation Centre by having a financial counsellor on site two days a week. This has made the referral process in both directions simple and effective.
Aside from direct client services PCLC addresses systemic issues within the justice system through participating in Law Reform. We have collaborated with other CLCs and made our own submissions in relation to the Infringements System, Tenants Rights and the review of the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 fines, access to justice at VCAT and Child Protection.
PCLC also participated in consultations with CAV in relation to Specialist Tenancy and Consumer Services targeting marginal groups, Victorian CLC Sector Outcomes Measurement Framework and Our Plan for a fair and effective toll enforcement system for Victoria.
PCLC has achieved a great deal this year and we look forward to continuing to providing effective and professional assistance to our community. Our success is driven by our amazing team and the support of volunteers, trainee lawyers, law students and pro bono partners. Congratulations, one and all, to a job well done!