Family violence legal services gets boost on the Border

Family violence victims living in NSW towns along the border will have the opportunity to access more legal assistance. In a positive move, the addition of a new family law position bolsters Hume Riverina Community Legal Service’s (HRCLS) ability to ensure people living in NSW who are experiencing family violence have access to legal support.

HRCLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers said the project, funded through Commonwealth funding distributed by Legal Aid NSW, would enable HRCLS to deliver family law and family violence services in the Southern Riverina of NSW, including Albury, Corowa, Deniliquin and Finley.

“Having a dedicated lawyer provide these services will help improve support we can provide to clients in rural communities who face these issues,” she said. “We will strengthen our links with other family violence services in the region. We already have dedicated lawyers providing targeted family violence services on the Victorian side of the border, so this will ensure those living in NSW receive a similar service.”

These services will officially begin in January 2018 and have been funded until June 30, 2020.

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman visited Hume Riverina Community Legal Service last week to find out how the legal service was helping people with everyday legal problems, and to hear about a new family law/family violence project targeting people in the Southern Riverina of NSW.

Ms Rodgers said the opportunity to speak directly with Mr Speakman, who made the approach to HRCLS to visit, was a chance for lawyers to explain the day-to-day challenges they face, and provide solutions.

“The Attorney General was interested to learn more about our approach and what was working well, and also what could be improved to help people get access to legal assistance,” she said. “Mr Speakman was very attentive, asked plenty of questions and able to clarify how the National Domestic Violence Order Scheme (NDVOS) will be implemented.”

Ms Rodgers said the NDVOS, which started on November 25, would help people living on the border because they no longer need to manually register their family violence protection order in NSW or Victoria.

“We have been asking for change and highlighting the difficulties for victims of family violence, who up until this point, have been responsible for registering their family protection orders across the Border,” Ms Rodgers said.

 

Family violence a key focus for community legal centre helping Border families

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) is joining the 16 Days of Activism campaign and principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers has welcomed the family violence focus on the Border, with local organisations playing a role to change attitude and behaviour in the community.

Ms Rodgers said it was the important for the community legal service to help promote the 16 Days of Activism and support partners, including The Women’s Centre, Yes Unlimited, Women’s Health Goulburn North East, the Ovens Murray Integrated Family Violence Network and the Centre Against Violence.VAV_A3_Many_hands_poster_V1-page-001

“We want to show the wider community the legal system is responding and we want to play a role to help people,” Ms Rodgers said. “When people separate they need to understand the family law process, and I encourage anyone needing free legal assistance to get in touch with us on 1800 918 377.

“We are seeing an increasing number of clients experiencing family violence and more than half the work we do is in the family law/family violence area.”

People seeking free legal help often experience a number of problems, along with domestic violence. Ms Rodgers said the excellent partnerships HRCLS has formed helped to refer people quickly to the right service to get their problems solved.

“Many people have complex issues, such as housing, fines, credit and debt,” she said. “Often they also have child safety to consider, so we work closely with our auspicing body UMFC and local service providers to get these people help to make sure their families have support and can feel safe.”

Although residents in Albury-Wodonga view themselves as living in one community, Ms Rodgers said the differences in NSW and Victorian family law meant legal issues could be complicated. “This makes it even more critical to help people through the steps in the legal process,” she said.

Getting early legal advice was also important to prioritise the best way forward. “Many people think they need to take certain steps, when in fact they made need to do other things first,” she said.

Making a difference to help people fix legal problems

Partnerships with key community organisations have been crucial for ensuring more people struggling with issues in their life get free legal assistance, according to Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers.

More than 30 people from community service providers attended the HRCLS ‘Report to the Community’ on Thursday, 9 November, to hear the impact HRCLS had in 2016-17. Ms Rodgers said she was proud of the role the service played in helping people access legal assistance.

“Our team’s commitment to link the community with the law has resulted in meeting our strategic aims and beating targets, with an increase in key areas of the service,” Ms Rodgers said.

Ms Rodgers said the strengthening of partnerships was having an impact, and allowed HRCLS lawyers to give more advice to people than in the previous year.

“Our partners such as Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre, NESAY, Gateway Health and Centre Against Violence are having a real impact through the collaborative programs we have established,” Ms Rodgers said. “People trust these services and our referrals are increasing as clients open up about their problems, which include legal issues. With our presence at each of these sites, we can quickly identify how to potentially fix these legal issues.”

Ms Rodgers said the legal service was investigating more projects to further extend its reach into the HRCLS catchment to ensure people needing legal advice on everyday problems. Outreach services are currently delivered from Benalla and Wangaratta to Henty and Holbrook, and west to Deniliquin, Finely and Corowa.

“We are in a unique environment on the Border and we regularly face cross border legal problems,” she said. “People dealing with legal problems often have interrelated Victorian and NSW legal problems and it can be extremely complex to get these issues resolved. These cross border issues problems continue to create confusion and frustration among the community and we will keep advocating for them to be addressed.”

NSW cross border commissioner James McTavish was guest speaker at the ‘Report to the Community’ and told the audience about the role of his office in addressing cross border issues.

Mr McTavish said local knowledge was vital for his work advocating to the NSW Government for resolutions to cross border problems, and he encouraged people to contact his office.

Mr McTavish said the NSW Government had addressed laws that would impact people living on the NSW-Victoria with legislation passed to allow the registration of interstate Intervention Violence Orders. Work is also being done in the child protection area to ensure border living is recognised.

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service 2016-17 highlights

Highlight breakout 2016-17

The above statistics are not a full representation of the data for the 2016-17 year. HRCLS will publish more data  when more is available.

The HRCLS Annual Report 2016-17 can be found online here.

NSW Cross Border Commissioner_James McTavish_Hume Riverina CLS team_Report to the Community_Nov_2017

NSW Cross Border Commissioner James McTavish

with the HRCLS team at the Report to the Community 2016-17