History of the St Kilda Legal Service Family Violence Duty Lawyer Program and clientele

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In response to an identified local need, in 2008 St Kilda Legal Service (SKLS) commenced a family violence duty lawyer service at Moorabbin Justice Centre (MJC).   Local agencies who were part of the Inner South Domestic Violence Network agreed to allocate funds to enable the Service to employ a lawyer in the role for six months and the Service managed to fund this position for a further six months.  In June 2009 SKLS found itself without funds to employ a dedicated worker in the role. SKLS was very reluctant to cease operating the family violence duty lawyer service at MJC.  We approached both Victoria Legal Aid and the then State and Federal Attorney-General seeking funding for this vital service.  The Service was unable to secure funding so, instead of ending the duty lawyer service, decided that in the interim our former Principal Lawyer, would provide the service.  Meanwhile SKLS continued to seek funding to employ a dedicated family violence lawyer.

In October 2011 we applied to the Legal Services Board for funding of the Community Action for Small Courts – Family Violence Response project.  The project brought together eight community agencies, including Salvation Army Family Violence Outreach Program; Emerge Women and Children’s Support Network; Inner South Community Health

Service; Family Life; Hanover Welfare Services; Connections UnitingCare and VincentCare. SKLS and these community agencies formed the Integrated Family Violence Inner Middle Partnership of the Southern Metropolitan Region.

This was a three year project expiring in October 2014 which developed a family violence service model and outreach legal service based at community agencies. A local education program was also developed to inform the community about their legal rights and local support services. This funding was granted and the project was launched on 30 March 2012 allowing SKLS to employ our previous family violence lawyer two days per week. SKLS attended court each Monday as a duty lawyer. The FV lawyer also conducted outreaches by appointment at two local community organisations.

In the 2008 – 2009 and the 2009 – 2010 financial years St Kilda Legal Service collected additional statistical information about whether the client was the applicant or respondent and the rates of resolution of matters. 68 per cent of matters resolved on the day and 32 per cent were adjourned.

From 2011 to 2012 SKLS provided 245 court representations, 79 per cent of our clients were female and 60 per cent received low income. The majority of our clients were between the ages of 35 to 49 years of age.

From 2012 to 2013 SKLS assisted 279 clients with 227 court representations. The legal help provided has an impact for over 190 children. 80 per cent of these clients were women and 65 per cent of clients received low income.

In November 2014 we extended the duty lawyer service at the MJC to two days per week, Mondays and Fridays.

From 2013 to 2014 SKLS assisted 326 clients with 233 court representations. The legal help provided impacted 296 children. 79 per cent of our clients were female and 72 per cent received low income.

By November 2014 the project came to an end. We were unsure if we would be able to continue to fund the FV lawyer role. We were granted funding from Victoria Legal Aid and were able to extend this position to three and a half days per week.  Shanée Lia was employed by SKLS in November 2015. Prior to her employment a locum solicitor, Principal Solicitor and our DO lawyer covered the duty lawyer service.

In its current form, the FV program encompasses 2 days per were covering the duty lawyer service at Moorabbin Justice Centre, 2 fortnightly Family Violence legal outreach programs and follow up case work. Through the Family Violence legal outreach program, SKLS provide legal advice and case work to applicants and protected persons in family violence matters, the majority of these being matters heard at the Moorabbin Justice Centre.

From 2014 to 2015 we assisted 351 clients which impacted 417 children. We provided 503 court representations. 82 per cent of our clients were women and 72 per cent received a low income.

As you can see the program has been reaching more people each year and expanding at a rate of approximately 15 per cent per annum.

 

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