When the actions will be implemented

When the actions will be implemented

Most of the Actions have been completed or are in the process of implementation and it is encouraging that we are already seeing some success in reforming family law legal aid services in Victoria.

Since the 2015 review there have been significant changes to the landscape – including more police and child protection workers, population growth and significant policy and legislative reforms – which have impacted on and increase the need for Victoria Legal Aid resources. Additionally, the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Family Law Council inquiry into families with complex needs and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry into a better family law system to support and protect those affected by family violence have and will continue to influence how we will implement our commitments. We will ensure implementation reflects changes in the environment whilst meeting the overall objectives of the review.

Completed actions

Action 10

Victoria Legal Aid established a working group that included private practitioners, community legal centres and staff lawyers to develop a suite of quality tools to assist practitioners in the preparation of matters for hearing. See the Family law trial practice tools

Action 20

An advice and negotiation grant was reintroduced for limited matters, with the fee to be deducted from the preparation fee for dispute resolution or litigation (as relevant) if the matter proceeds to that stage.

Action 21

Victoria Legal Aid established a reference group that included private practitioners, community legal centres and our staff lawyers, to review grant guidelines related to family law dispute resolution and litigation and make recommendations about:

  • re-drafting the guidelines so that they are easier to understand and apply
  • re-drafting the guidelines to reflect the case management, hearing models, and practices of the Family Law Courts
  • developing checklists to assist practitioners in applying for grants of aid and assess the merits of a matter.

These recommendations were approved by the Board and made available to practitioners on 3 July 2017. Watch a video about the changes

Action 22

Victoria Legal Aid is prioritising funding for family law litigation for cases where:

  • a party has a particular vulnerability, such as a mental health issue, cognitive impairment, language barrier, literacy issues, drug and alcohol issues, or an acquired brain injury and the particular vulnerability impacts on either:
    • the ability of the party to conduct their own litigation and/or
    • the ability of a child subject to the proceedings to maintain a meaningful relationship with one or more parties to the proceedings
  • a child's wellbeing or safety is at risk of harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence to the extent that orders made in the proceedings are likely to significantly limit the relationship between the child and one or more parties to the proceedings and/or to make a change in residential arrangements for the child.

Funding in such circumstances extends to both parties in the matter (subject to other guideline requirements).

Action 23

The guideline restricting funding for representation at final hearing for clients otherwise eligible for litigation funding has been removed.

Action 24

Litigation grants for property matters have been reintroduced when the dispute also involves children and:

  • the parent is seeking to retain the family home and will receive no payment or
  • the matter involves a superannuation split and/or a pool of equity less than $50,000 (excluding superannuation).

Action 25

The funding requirement that respondents to a court application may only be granted aid to seek an adjournment, if parties have not attended the Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service, has been removed.

Action 26

The guideline removing eligibility for aid has been amended so that it does not exclude funding on the basis of breaches of Victorian family violence safety notices or intervention orders.

Action 27

 On 3 July 2017 eligibility for Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service was expanded to include:

  • matters where there is or has been a risk of family violence (i.e. both victims and perpetrators are eligible)
  • matters where the proposal or conduct of a party substantially prejudices the ability of a child to maintain a meaningful relationship with one or both parents.

Action 28

Victoria Legal Aid reviewed the recovery order guideline and introduced a subsequent hearing fee on 1 Oct 2016.

Action 32

A grant for disbursements has been introduced for independent children’s lawyers seeking assessment reports, applicable where there are legally aided parties or self-represented litigants who are unable to pay the cost of the report.

Action 33

A limited grant for independent children’s lawyers to instruct in proceedings has been introduced.

Action 34

The current guideline has been amended to continue to allow for, but no longer require, independent children’s lawyers to appear at final hearings as solicitor advocates.

Action 35

Victoria Legal Aid provided training to independent children’s lawyers to build their capacity to appear at their own hearings.

In-progress actions

Actions 1, 2 and 4

Victoria Legal Aid has engaged with community agencies and community legal centres, and found the need for an intuitive online tool to assist with early identification of legal issues and to support appropriate legal referrals by community and support workers.

To ensure the sustainability of the tool and that we are financially responsible, the implementation of this tool has been deferred while we explore our funding options.

Action 5

Victoria Legal Aid continues to expand the Settled and Safe program to targeted regions across Victoria.

Action 7

Victoria Legal Aid, in consultation with private practitioners and community legal centres, have provided and will continue to provide information and training to family lawyers on related areas of law, so that they can better assist clients and provide appropriate advice and referrals. 

Actio​n 8

Victoria Legal Aid, in consultation with the Family Law Courts, community legal centres, and support workers have established the Family Advocacy and Support Service. This enhanced duty lawyer service recognises that people coming to the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia have more than just legal needs. Find out more about family advocacy and support services.

Action 9

Victoria Legal Aid continues to implement its Reconciliation Action Plan commitments, including as they relate to family law needs.

Action 11

The current preparation fee for trials will be divided into two components:

  • an evidence analysis, merits assessment and case strategy fee ($534 being three hours at $178.00) to cover the work involved for a lawyer or barrister undertaking this assessment with the fee payable upon practitioner declaration that evidence is on the file that the assessment has been conducted prior to final hearing (which can be subject to audit via the existing audit process)

  • the remainder of the fee to be a general lump sum fee to cover other preparation undertaken by a lawyer.

This is underway and will be implemented by December 2018.

Action 12

The Victoria Legal Aid Practice Standards for section 29A panels will be amended to clearly state the preparation requirements of family lawyers for mediations and trials, and we will use the existing audit process to monitor compliance. 

This is also underway and will be implemented by December 2018.

Action 13 

Victoria Legal Aid, in consultation with the Victorian Bar, private practitioners and community legal centres, committed to establishing a preferred list of barristers to be briefed in legally aided family law matters. After further consultations the direction of the action has developed. VLA aims to work better with our practice partners to strengthen family law briefing practices and court advocacy. 

Action 14

Victoria Legal Aid is reviewing existing training on cultural awareness, disability and mental health issues and adapt or develop new training to be delivered to lawyers doing legal aid work. The February 2018 Family Law Forum included training on mental health services and future forums will include training in other non-legal areas.

Action 15

Victoria Legal Aid, in collaboration with community-based and academic partners, are developing and implementing a culturally responsive framework for the Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service.

Action 16

Victoria Legal Aid, in partnership with community legal centres, are undertaking a family violence to family law ‘continuity of service delivery’ pilot for high needs clients. For more information, see New pilots to reduce trauma for parents dealing with family violence.

Action 18

We will conduct a court-based mediation pilot that will locate a Victoria Legal Aid Family Dispute Resolution Service case manager at court to assess parties’ suitability for mediation. The pilot will be delivered using existing Victoria Legal Aid resources.

Action 19

Victoria Legal Aid committed to reviewing the way in which family violence duty lawyer services are provided with a view to enhancing intake opportunities at Magistrates’ Courts for clients with family law legal need by supporting lawyers to screen more consistently for family law need. We have stationed a senior family violence lawyer at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court each Friday to triage the duty list and screen for family law needs. This will be evaluated and recommendations will be made in relation to its continuation.

Action 29

Family Law Legal Service are now taking a more flexible approach to delivering Legally Assisted Family Dispute Resolution Services in partnership with Victoria Legal Aid. This will be evaluated to determine if the model is effective and economic, and enables more clients to access the service.

Action 30

Victoria Legal Aid, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, are reviewing existing self-represented litigant resources to identify and address quality and accessibility issues and gaps and duplication in content, and develop or diversify family law legal information and other resources as required to support self-represented litigants.

Action 31​

Victoria Legal Aid are developing more structured guidelines for seeking contributions and costs to recover the costs of the independent children’s lawyers where appropriate.

Implementation to begin in the final year

Action 3

Victoria Legal Aid, in consultation with community agencies and community legal centres, will scope appropriate sites for outreach services at points of early contact for clients and assess resource requirements for providing those services.

Action 6

Victoria Legal Aid, in consultation with community agencies, Family Law Pathways Network and community legal centres, will develop or adopt referral or other tools for family lawyers to support early identification of non-legal service support requirements for clients and referral to appropriate services.

Action 17​

Victoria Legal Aid, in consultation with Family Relationships Centres and community legal centres, will investigate the value of trialling a new legal service at one or more Family Relationships Centres, including an evaluation of previous pilots of legal assistance to clients of the centres and review of current service arrangements undertaken by other legal service providers.

Read the final report

See the Family Law Legal Aid Services Review: final report (docx, 299.61 KB) for more information.

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