Better justice, every day

Better justice, every day

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About the project

Everyone in our community deserves to be treated fairly and to have their rights protected when they interact with the justice system.

The summary crime system is made up of magistrates, lawyers, police and many other support agencies and staff. It helps thousands of people address their legal matters every day.

‘It’s the heart of Victoria Legal Aid’s work – every day hundreds of staff and our panel lawyers work with clients at a time of crisis and vulnerability, right across Victoria.’ - Kate Bundrock, Program Manager, Summary Crime Program, VLA.

The Better justice, every day project is about making the biggest difference we can for our clients and the community by creating a fairer system.

We want our services to have clients at their heart, to make people’s lives fairer and better, and to be sustainable. But this project is about more than that. It is also about creating a fair, effective and modern justice system – one which also puts people at the centre and recognises the underlying factors that lead people into the courts – by working with our partners at every point of the system, from police to prisons and everyone in between.

Our role in building a better justice system

Our Summary Crime Program is VLA’s largest service delivery program. These services are an important point in a person’s interaction with the justice system. Our staff and the private lawyers delivering these services help people to:

  • navigate the often complicated and confusing summary crime system
  • uphold their rights
  • connect them to the services they need
  • and advocate for fair and just outcomes.

This work is an essential part of the broader summary crime system, which is the most common point of entry into, and pathway through which most people experience the justice system, and our services in it.

Our journey began when we commissioned an independent report to evaluate the program’s sustainability and whether it is delivering the fair and just outcomes for people that we aim for.

The findings in the report, and the ongoing experiences of people in the system every day, tell us that we could achieve better justice if we:

  • reduce the number of people rotating through the system
  • find more time and space to help people access treatment and rehabilitation so they can make positive, long-lasting change in their lives
  • identify and address the ongoing effects of trauma, family violence, inequality and poverty in the criminal justice system
  • reduce delay in the system by making sure that all parts of the system are working together efficiently
  • have balanced resourcing that matches the changing demands on the system
  • protect the health and wellbeing of people working in the system.

Read more about the evaluation and download the evaluation summary.

Our shared vision

The evaluation recommended that we start by understanding the differences our services make. What are the concrete goals that we are all working towards? How do they fit with VLA’s vision for a fairer society? And how are we going to get there?

We started this process by talking to people who know about our program. We have been working closely with staff and stakeholders, including Magistrates, police prosecutors and, of course, the people we help in the system. Between February and July 2019, we consulted more than 200 people, hearing about the value of our work across the state and the difference our services make every day.

Based on these consultations, we developed a ‘program logic’ – a tool which visually displays how we aim to achieve our vision - which will help guide our Better justice, every day project. Developing the program logic with staff and stakeholders ensured that it reflects the common value of our services, no matter where they are delivered or who delivers them.

How do we contribute to VLA’s vision? By making the biggest difference we can for our clients and the community, by creating a fairer justice system, every day.

We have three goals which, if we achieve, will mean we’ve given our clients the best chance at fairness.

  • people have agency when dealing with the justice system, and can work to improve their outcomes
  • the summary crime system is fair and protects the rights of everyone involved
  • the summary crime system recognises and addresses the underlying causes of offending.

Edith’s story

Edith (not their real name) has been physically and emotionally abused by her partner for years. Due to the family violence she had been left homeless. This wasn’t the first time. She had long faced family violence and drug issues, and now, when she was at her most vulnerable, was charged with a family violence offence. Too often, people like Edith, without help, end up facing convictions which only exacerbate their problems. In Edith’s case, it would make further homelessness and drug addiction more likely. But a Legal Aid lawyer negotiated with police, and had Edith assessed by the Court Integrated Services Program, a special service to help people support people who have cases before the Court. Edith was granted bail and was able to seek support services, which her lawyer helped connect her with.

Edith’s story lays out so many of the ways Victoria Legal Aid works with people in the summary crime system. Because of her VLA lawyer, she had more than legal help. She was referred to support services, understood her rights, had her story heard, retained her dignity and agency, and was able to focus on the future, instead of dealing with the consequences of a criminal conviction.

Long-term outcomes

Edith is only one example, however. We work with over 45,000 people like Edith every year and we also work to build a better justice system, but we want to be ambitious and think about what bigger outcomes our work contributes to. We’ve developed five outcomes that we expect to see from our work towards achieving Better justice, every day.

  • improved safety and wellbeing of individuals and the community
  • people can address underlying life problems, which decreases recidivism
  • laws are fair and people receive fairer legal outcomes
  • everyone in the summary crime system is accountable
  • improve the functioning of the summary crime system.

We’ve identified the purpose of our work in the summary crime system, what we want to achieve, and how we’re going to get there. This will help us to achieve meaningful participation for people in the system, address the causes of offending and to protect the rights of everyone who engages with the system. It will also support us to make the biggest impact we can with the resources we have, for our long-term sustainability.

What’s next?

Having established all this, the Better justice, every day project will now focus four key projects:

  1. Measuring and evaluating the impact of our services.
  2. To support this we will assess the data we currently collect and what else we should be recording to demonstrate the difference we make every day.
  3. Improving the legal information we offer people with a summary crime problem and how it’s delivered, so people understand their rights and the court process and are able to positively participate in it.
  4. Piloting a new system. We are working with our partners at the Magistrates’ Court, Victoria Police and government to prototype a new model of justice that will improve the way clients, victims and professionals experience the system. It will aim to provide continuity of service by lawyers, prosecutors and court staff throughout a case and early assessment and preparation of cases outside of court. It will also aim to reduce the number of court events whilst ensuring that each court event is meaningful and helps progress or resolve the case. If supported, the model would be tested at a single location, evaluated, and rolled out state-wide if successful.

Watch our better justice, every day video

Please enjoy the launch video of our better justice, every day project from 2017.

More information

If you would like further information about this work or would like to contribute to Better justice, every day contact betterjusticeeveryday@vla.vic.gov.au

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