Guideline changes to improve child protection legal services

Guideline changes to improve child protection legal services

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

On 1 October 2018, new state family law guidelines and a minor change to fees will take effect. The new guidelines will increase the legal assistance available to children, young people, parents and carers involved in child protection court matters. The changes are part of our commitment to improve child protection legal services, and implement actions we have committed to in the Child Protection Legal Aid Services Review final report.

What are the changes

We will be introducing the following changes to state family law guidelines and fees.

Interim contested hearings

Assistance will be available for interim contested hearings where any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child is in out of home care and the dispute is about contact arrangements with parents or siblings. 

The change acknowledges the importance of promoting and maintaining cultural identity and family connection for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children through ongoing contact with parents and siblings. It implements Action 12 from our Child Protection Legal Aid Services Review.

Appeals

Assistance will be available where a client is the respondent to an appeal from the Family Division of the Children’s Court to the County Court or the Supreme Court, or to an application to the Supreme Court for judicial review of a decision of the Children’s Court, County Court or VCAT.

The introduction of the new guidelines recognises that a party who has participated in Children’s Court proceedings should not be unfairly excluded where another party then appeals or seeks review of those proceedings. It will also clarify and simplify our grants process for parties and their lawyers, with respondents to these applications no longer required to apply under the State Special Circumstances or the Public Interest Strategic Litigation (PISL) guideline for funding. Given the complexity of these matters, applications under this guideline will continue to be assessed by VLA.

Post conference mention fee

The post conciliation conference mention fee will no longer be an additional fee paid where the mention is held on the same day as the conciliation conference. The final report of our review identified the payment of the fee as unnecessary and under Action 25 we committed to removing it.   

What fees we will pay

The new fee structure, set out below, acknowledges that in many instances the court mention follows immediately after the conciliation conference but that in some instances the mention is held on a later date and requires a new attendance:

  • Preparation fee is $229
  • Appearance at the conference (including appearance at the mention following) is $613
  • Appearance where the conference is adjourned on the day (including appearance at the mention) is $342
  • Post conference mention fee where the mention is held on a later date is $171

The new fee structure also ensures that an appropriate amount is still paid where a conference does not go ahead on the day, recognising the time that the lawyer has set aside to attend.

Changes to Atlas

A new ATLAS template has been created to reflect the changes.  From 1 October, you will see a new template on your ATLAS Home page 'CHILD PROTECTION/APPEAL/JUDICIAL REVIEW/VCAT'. This template is to be used for all matters which fall under our state family law guidelines.

Travel fee

Counsel is now able to be paid for travel from their usual place of business to court where the court is more than 40 kilometres away. 

Counsel may only be paid for travel from their usual place of business where:

  • The practitioner is unable to appear due to another client’s matter or leave, and
  • the practitioner has made enquiries with local practitioners and has ascertained that no one is able to appear.

The practitioner must document what attempts they have made to brief locally and will need to address both factors (i) and (ii) in their application for additional travel fees.

If these factors are satisfied, the travel disbursement can be claimed without prior approval from VLA under the broadband grant.

In all cases (including contested hearings, IAO appeals and VCAT hearings), where counsel is briefed, the 40 kilometres requirement is measured from counsel’s usual place of business.

Training and more information

For any training needs or more information relating to guidelines and ATLAS template enquiries, please contact Assignments Family on (03) 9269 0600 or email AssignmentsFamily@vla.vic.gov.au.

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