Pilot Project flying the legal flag for consumers on the Border

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) has joined forces with the Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) to strengthen its approach to dealing with consumer legal issues faced by people on the Border.

HRCLS has entered a partnership with the Victorian-based CALC, along with Barwon Community Legal Service, to work together to identify and address the consumer law, credit law and insurance law needs of clients living in regional and rural Victoria and to provide better access to CALC’s specialist knowledge.

HRCLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers said the six-month project allowed HRCLS to play a part in the Federation of CLCs’ ongoing campaign to increase access to justice for people and has assisted the service’s lawyers identify consumer problems and help people, particularly those who have been misled and face crushing debt and repayment issues.

“We see a lot of people who are affected by family violence, or suffering disability, mental illness or homelessness” Ms Rodgers said. “Frequently these are people who also find themselves in debt through unfair loans or consumer leases and they don’t realise they can get help with these issues. Working with CALC has meant that we are better equipped to help people with all their legal problems and to connect them with specialist legal advice from wherever they are in our region.”

CALC Lawyers Lachlan Edwards, Philippa Heir and Lisa Grealy have visited HRCLS over the past few months to train staff and establish clear referral pathways to CALC’s expertise. Jesse Marshall was in the region last week and was able to provide community worker training in Wangaratta on Thursday 28, June alongside HRCLS lawyers Deb Fisher and Jodie Wells. The topics discussed were Fines, Family Law and Consumer Issues; three common, everyday legal problems. It is hoped that the more community workers are informed about the law in these areas and the services that are available to assist, the earlier people will be referred for the help they need.

Ms Rodgers said HRCLS would also use the opportunity of working with CALC to learn more about running law reform campaigns to target inconsistencies in the law and advocate for positive change. “CALC is a leader in the sector for highlighting legal issues and getting results, and we want to increase our law reform effort,” she said. “Identifying potential law reform areas and calling on Governments to make changes to the law stops people getting entangled in the law system in the first place. This reduction in the number of people getting in trouble with the law and their issues exacerbating is a win-win situation.”

This work has been undertaken within the framework of a broader project led by the Federation of Community Legal Centres, to improve the interaction between the 24 generalist and 25 specialist Community Legal Centres (CLCs) across Victoria. The Project is funded and supported through Victoria Legal Aid’s Community Legal Centre Innovation and Transformation Fund.

Elderly citizens have rights and deserve to feel safe in our community

Local service providers are encouraging the community to speak up if they see elder abuse occurring. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is on Friday 15 June, and with the World Health Organisation believing elder abuse is under-reported, it is important for people to report when an elderly person has been harmed in some way.

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service senior lawyer Karen Keegan said Elder Abuse was a highly complicated issue but everyone has rights regardless of age.

“Just because you get old, doesn’t mean you become a second-class citizen and have less legal rights,” Ms Keegan said. “The elderly deserve to be respected and the more that can be done to encourage people who experience elder abuse to speak up, the better, because it’s common for people not to talk about their experience because they fear further abuse.”

Along with the shame of the experience, people can feel helpless in their situation due to the common dynamic of the relationship between victim and abuser.

HRCLS senior lawyer Karen Keegan with Albury Wodonga health Older Persons Mental Health Services OD Grace Churches after the Elder Abuse information session.

“When it occurs, it can be very distressing for victims, as it is often family members, a close friend or a trusted carer who are doing the abuse,” Ms Keegan said. “Often the victim relies on the abuser for care, for support, for transport, or because they have no one else who will help them.”

Service workers play a vital role in identifying elder abuse, and given the complex nature of how it can present, it is important they understand some of the ways elder abuse can be reduced. Ms Keegan recently visited the Albury Wodonga Health Older Person’s Mental Health Service to speak with staff about the need for elderly people to have a Power of Attorney appointed and wishes clearly stated in a Will.

“Having your affairs in order and documents in place helps reduce the risk of elder abuse, particularly around finances,” Ms Keegan said. “Elder abuse is a form of domestic violence and can take many forms. Financial abuse remains at the top of the list. This can be as simple as taking $20 here and there out of Mum’s purse, or a son or a daughter moving back home and making Mum and Dad feel uncomfortable as they overtake the residence.”

Ms Keegan praised service providers such as Albury Wodonga Health for their pro-active approach to identifying elder abuse and acting in the best interests of those people in their care. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with Albury Wodonga Health and seeing the mutual benefits that arise as a result,” Ms Keegan said.

For free legal assistance, phone Hume Riverina Community Legal Service on 1800 918 377.

Funding to help young people clear Invisible legal hurdles on the Border

Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula announced $200,000 funding over two years for a Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) integrated justice partnership on 1 June 2018. This funding will be used to continue the Invisible Hurdles project, involving the Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre, the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service (AWAHS) and Wangaratta-based NESAY, into the 2018-19 financial year.

HRCLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers welcomed the additional funding and thanked the State Government for acknowledging the importance of integrated justice partnerships, particularly those helping young people experiencing family violence.

“We’re excited about continuing this important work with our partners into the future,” Ms Rodgers said. “We know young people will not walk into a lawyer’s office off the street, so being on-site with services who they trust has been crucial for the success of the project.”

“Making a difference for people affected by family violence is a key priority for our service. Young people affected by family violence often have numerous other legal problems, so providing a friendly, accessible, wrap-around service is critical,” she said. “The sooner young people get legal help, the higher the chance of a positive outcome.”

The Victorian Legal Service Board Grants Program funded the Invisible Hurdles project from December 2015 to May 2018. This latest funding has been provided by the Department of Justice and Regulation. Ms Rodgers said the Invisible Hurdles Project Stage 1 final report and evaluation was in the process of being produced, and is expected to be launched in October. Without pre-empting the findings, Ms Rodgers said the health justice partnership had made an impact at various levels.

“We’re proud of how the Invisible Hurdles Project has helped young people understand their legal rights and solved their legal problems,” she said. “Along with our legal assistance, this has been achieved through staff at each service understanding how we work, identifying legal problems, being willing to refer young people and trusting us to act in their best care.”

Local lawyer repays community with help for people in need of legal assistance

A strong social conscience drawn out of the caring community he grew up in has driven a local man to volunteer to help locals needing legal advice for a range of issues. In his spare time, Maurice Blackburn lawyer Kip Frawley volunteers at the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) as part of a roster to give free legal advice at the fortnightly evening clinic.

With Volunteer Week being recognised nationally, Kip reflected on his willingness to volunteer, and how his effort has helped double the amount the number of appointments now available at the HRCLS evening clinic every second Tuesday.

Wangaratta-based HRCLS lawyer Deb Fisher said the strong volunteer culture in Wangaratta was helping make a difference for people needing legal assistance. “The evening clinic allows people from outside Wangaratta or those who can’t make daytime appointments, to access free legal advice outside work hours,” Ms Fisher said. “Thanks to the ongoing commitment of a growing number of volunteers, we have capacity to see six more clients than we would otherwise. We are grateful for their help and value their contribution.”

Born and raised in Wangaratta, Kip grew up with four siblings in a close family unit, and the values and ethos of his mother and father, GPs Jenny Murray and Gavin Frawley, had a lasting impact on how their son views the world and his place in it.

“They led by example. My parents are very community minded. Mum ran the school fete for years, and they got involved in the soccer and footy clubs when we started playing,” Kip said. “So the desire to ‘give back to the community’ was instilled at an early age.”

Once he’d settled on law as a career, Kip moved to Canberra to study at ANU. The lifestyle and environment enhanced his social justice conscience where he learnt and developed a particular interest in indigenous law and issues. For his last semester, Kip headed to Vienna after catching the travel bug during a visit to Indonesia.

“A highlight was a subject in mediation resolution with a large Austrian law firm, which had a partnership with the University of Vienna,” he said. “It was a great chance for me to see some of the world while finishing off study.”

Volunteer Kip Frawley is one of a number of local lawyers, including Wendy Couzens (pictured), volunteering on a regular basis at HRCLS.

On his return, Kip’s experience with social justice issues started while completing his Practical Legal Training in Darwin working at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency. Then after a short stint as a paralegal in the firm’s Melbourne office and his admission as legal practitioner, Kip joined Maurice Blackburn back in his home town just over 12 months ago.

“I’ve always been interested in social justice, and the no-win, no-fee arrangement Maurice Blackburn offers facilitates access to justice for people who might not otherwise be able to obtain it,” he said. “Growing up in the country, I always wanted to return to a regional area, so coming home was a perfect fit.”

Kip represents people in WorkCover and TAC claims to help people get compensation and medical treatment. “This idea of equality before the law – while it sounds good in theory – it’s not something we always see in practice. So for me it’s about fighting for that and sticking up for people in vulnerable situations,” he said.

Volunteering allows Kip the opportunity to help people as a way of repaying a community that gave him plenty when he was young. Before heading to Darwin, he approached HRCLS about volunteering in the hope he could one day take up a role, and last year reconnected with the service.

“Volunteer work is something I’ve always done, whether that is in the legal, community or sporting space and this is one small way that I can use my training to help people doing it tough,” he said. “I get exposure to different areas of law and it reminds me of why I got into law in the first place. I’d encourage other lawyers if they have the time to get involved at HRCLS, because community legal centres’ resources are thin and you can help people who need it the most.”

Anyone interested in volunteering with the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service can visit the Volunteer page.

 

Volunteering brings sense of personal satisfaction

About Wendy Couzens – Wangaratta evening clinic volunteer

How long have you been a lawyer? Almost 5 years.

 What is the name of your firm? Morgan Couzens Legal.

HRCLS volunteers Wendy Couzens and Kip Frawley at the Wangaratta Tuesday evening clinic.

 What attracted you to becoming a lawyer? I had worked as a law clerk for several years, and decided that I would enjoy working as a solicitor. I continued working as a clerk whilst undertaking university studies.

 Why did you decide to volunteer with HRCLS? I really enjoy helping clients in a practical sense by talking the client through the legal options available and also pointing out the practical reality of what those options mean for the client’s situation. Whilst working in private practice, the clients that I help are those who already know that they need a lawyer and can afford to pay for a lawyer. Volunteering with HRCLS I can assist people who sometimes aren’t certain what type of help they need and those who, for various reasons, cannot afford to pay a lawyer to act for them.

 What benefits do you get from volunteering as a lawyer? A sense of personal satisfaction and the knowledge that I am helping people in my local community with an expertise that many people don’t have.

 Why would you encourage other lawyers to volunteer? Assisting people outside your usual client group shows you what issues are relevant to other people in your community and what opportunities might be out there to give back. Finding solutions to unusual problems helps to develop lateral thinking skills.

How has volunteering helped you in your day-to-day role? Volunteering broadens my perspective to include issues that people outside my normal client group are facing. My firm writes an online blog which focuses on issues related to employment law and when I write for that blog, I often draw on questions that are asked of me both in private practice and as a volunteer.


Anyone interested in volunteering with the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service can visit the Volunteer page.

 

Independent umpire as important now as ever – Victorian Ombudsman to visit Wodonga for Law Week Launch 2018

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass OBE will speak about the exercise of discretion in administrative decision-making at a keynote address to mark the beginning of Law Week. Ms Glass is a guest of the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS), which is holding a Law Week Launch on Friday 11 May at The Cube Wodonga at 3pm.

Following a distinguished career in London, in several high-profile roles including deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission of England and Wales, Ms Glass was appointed for a 10-year term in March 2014 as the Victorian Ombudsman.

HRCLS senior lawyer Karen Keegan said the office of the Victorian Ombudsman played a vital role in ensuring people had an independent body to approach when issues needed to be resolved.

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass OBE

“We are proud to be part of a sector that views access to justice in the highest importance,” Ms Keegan said.

Ms Keegan said the service was pleased Ms Glass had accepted the invitation to launch Law Week to give people on the Border a chance to learn about her role four years after being appointed.

“Our motto is ‘Linking the community with the Law’ and while we do this on a daily basis, Law Week is a chance for us to extend that beyond legal assistance to broader legal education,” she said.

“People expect fair and reasonable decision-making in the Victorian public sector, and this is an opportunity for people to hear how the Ombudsman approaches her work to reach decisions,” she said. “Ms Glass holds a firm belief in public sector integrity and the protection of human rights, and these are values that many people in our region are also passionate about upholding.”

The office of the Victorian Ombudsman is increasing its connection with the community legal sector, and Ms Keegan welcomes any move that strengthens this relationship. “We are looking forward to hearing more about the Ombudsman’s plan to build connections with our sector, and we would welcome any closer ties we could create to ensure the Ombudsman was aware of issues in our catchment in Victoria of 10 local government areas,” she said.

The HRCLS Law Week Launch is open to the public. Tickets are $10 and can be booked through the HRCLS website – http://hrcls.org.au/events/.

Family Court system on menu for Women in Law Breakfast 2018

NSW Woman Lawyer of the Year for 2017 Kylie Beckhouse will be the special guest speaker at the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) Women in Law Breakfast on Thursday 17 May. This popular event brings together women from the legal profession on the NSW-Victorian border, as well as women with an interest in the law.

Ms Beckhouse’s distinguished career has spanned more than two decades. She is currently Director of Family Law at Legal Aid NSW, overseeing the largest family law practice in Australia. As an accredited specialist in family law and an independent children’s lawyer, Ms Beckhouse is passionate about the delivery of family law services to the most vulnerable in our society, particularly children and victims of domestic violence.

The Women In Law Breakfast topic this year is ‘The rise and fall of the Australian family court system’, with Ms Beckhouse speaking about how the pioneering system has evolved since its inception.

Kylie Beckhouse, NSWWoman Lawyer of the Year 2017

“When the Family Law Act was passed in 1975, it was heralded for its new approach to resolving family law disputes post-separation,” Ms Beckhouse said. “For decades after, our family law system was considered a showpiece of how a modern and innovative jurisdiction deals with some of its most vulnerable clients. Leap forward 40 years and the gloss has disappeared.”

Ms Beckhouse said the family law system was “under siege”, and  the current Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry could pave the way for change.

“The family law system is being criticised for being painstakingly slow, prohibitively expensive, and overlooking the rights of victims of violence and children,” Ms Beckhouse said.

HRCLS senior lawyer Karen Keegan said hosting Ms Beckhouse as part of Law Week 2018  was important for the service to fulfil its aim of keeping people informed about the legal system.

“We pride ourselves on educating the community about key aspects of the law, and Law Week is an opporutnity for us to bring quality speakers to talk on topics relevant to our area,” Ms Keegan said. “Law Week is another chance for us to link our community with the law. We value the partnerships we’ve created within our community and this event helps increase the strength of our relationships.”

The Women in Law Breakfast will be held at the Hovell Tree Inn, Albury. Bookings are limited and tickets are $25 each. Please register at Eventbrite.

Free community info session – FV and why early intervention helps

Looking for information about family violence for yourself or someone else? The Ovens Murray Integrated Family Violence Committee will be running a series of free community information sessions in Wangaratta in 2018. The sessions are free, informal and community oriented.

The first session will feature Hume Riverina Community Legal Service family lawyer Jodie Wells. It will be held at Gateway Wangaratta on Wednesday 28 March 2018, from 8am-9am.

Since March 2017, Ms Wells has attended the Centre Against Violence under a health-justice partnership arrangement in Wangaratta and Wodonga to give free legal assistance to women impacted by family violence.

“These clients are particularly vulnerable and are not entitled to legal aid, and they do not have the financial means to get legal assistance from private lawyers,” Ms Wells said.

The legal assistance provided to women in need covers a range of legal issues, including family violence, family law (child contact, property and divorce), debt problems, tenancy issues, applications to Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) and fines and infringements. As part of the evaluation process for the health justice partnership, statistics are recorded. Ms Wells said the top five categories overall have been

  1. Family Law Property in Marriage/De Facto
  2. Family Law Child Contact
  3. Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal applications
  4. Tenancy issues
  5. Fines/Infringements

“These top five issues make up about 40 per cent of my advice, and many people have multiple legal issues,” she said.

Ms Wells said the information session is aimed at support workers and health professionals, as well as victims and their family and friends. “This session will help people understand how this legal process works and how early intervention is important for getting a positive result,” she said.

For more information about the community session, or to register, visit EventBrite at bit.ly/FVinfosessions or call Jasmine Isaacs on 03 5722 3009. If you or anyone you know needs immediate help with family violence call 000 or contact Safe Steps on www.safesteps.org.au or 1800 015 188. 1800 015 188 1800 015 188 1800 015 188

Partnerships helping young people get over life’s hurdles

Giving young people access to free legal advice in a ground-breaking first in regional Australia has resulted in many positive outcomes beyond helping fix legal problems.

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers welcomed Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan to NESAY on January 11 to meet with all the partners involved in the Invisible Hurdles project. HRCLS has partnered with NESAY, Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre and the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service (AWAHS) to deliver the Invisible Hurdles project from October 2016 onwards.

Ms Rodgers thanked Ms McGowan for showing a strong interest in the project and offering her support in Parliament for community legal centres and initiatives to help young people struggling with life’s challenges.

“We appreciate the support from all MPs who see the value in our work and how we make a difference for people in our communities,” Ms Rodgers said.

Ms Rodgers said it was important to highlight how the partnerships were working to deliver positive outcomes, and everyone agreed co-location, relationship building and trust, and regular access to an Invisible Hurdles lawyer were main ingredients for the project’s success.

“All partners are keen for the project to continue and this is testament to the excellent work everyone is doing,” Ms Rodgers said. “Health-justice partnerships are delivering positive outcomes and it’s important for us to show Government this is a productive service model.”

The Invisible Hurdles health justice partnership project received funding through the Victorian Legal Services Board Grant program, and Legal Aid NSW also provides funding for the project to be run at AWAHS.

Representatives from NESAY, Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre and AWAHS outlined how the Invisible Hurdles was helping young people, particularly in family violence situations, as well as creating other benefits for service workers, such as upskilling and education on the legal system.

NESAY executive officer Leah Waring said the health-justice partnership had created a positive ripple effect and helped enhance relationships, while giving support workers new skills.

“Our staff can now identify a potential legal problem and have the confidence to refer the people they’re seeing to the Invisible Hurdles lawyer, and young people would never make an appointment for help without this encouragement,” Ms Waring said. “Our young people are blown away that they can see a lawyer for free. Without access to the Invisible Hurdles project, the opportunities for them to get legal help are almost non-existent.”

Ms McGowan praised the Invisible Hurdles partners for their collaborative approach to address legal problems for young people in vulnerable situations and encouraged them to continue showing Government how the service model was working.

Invisible Hurdles project partners gather to discuss the success the program has created through helping young people with Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO MP.

Invisible Hurdles project partners gather to discuss the success the program has created through helping young people with Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO MP(middle).

 

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.