Celebrating Cultural Diversity Week

Celebrating Cultural Diversity Week

Monday, 17 March 2014

Our Legal Help team comprises a number of multilingual staff.
Our Legal Help team comprises a number of multilingual staff.

This Cultural Diversity Week, our Director Civil Justice, Access and Equity Dan Nicholson gives a snapshot of how we are working to address the barriers that people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds can encounter when they have legal problems:

Finding your way around our complex legal system can be challenging enough, but getting the help you need if you don’t speak English well can be really tough.

The comprehensive Legal Australia-Wide (LAW) Survey showed that people whose main language was not English were less likely to take action to resolve their legal problems than others. As there are more than a million (around 20 per cent) of the Victorian population who speak a language other than English at home, that is a substantial proportion of the population who may be struggling to get legal help.

While there are obvious barriers, such as language, for many, even understanding that you have a legal problem can be a further obstacle. Many new arrivals come from countries where government and legal systems operate very differently to ours, so there are different understandings or even mistrust about the law that need to be overcome. In some countries, for example, the law would never be involved in family or parenting disputes, which would be seen as personal matters.

With this in mind, it is a strong focus of ours to make sure that people from culturally diverse backgrounds are aware of our services.

We have been working to strengthen our connections to other services so that if we’re not the right port of call for their problem,  we help them find help instead of being left frustrated and confused.

Last year 22 per cent of our 86,961 clients were from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and this spanned a wide range of problems, including discrimination, family law, migration, mental health, criminal and consumer legal problems.

However, we also play an equally important role in preventing legal problems down the track, by increasing knowledge of legal rights and responsibilities.

Through our multilingual staff, our Legal Help phone service provides free, confidential information about the law in 14 community languages, with Arabic, Chinese and Vietnamese being last year’s most popular language lines. Demand for these language lines is up 40 per cent this financial year. We have also introduced wallet-sized help cards about our services which are available in 25 languages.

Our What’s the law? education kit for new arrivals has achieved recognition as one of three finalists in this year’s ‘Diversity in the law’ award from the Migration Council. This kit, which has been available to 55,000 new arrivals, has 10 digital stories addressing common legal issues experienced during settlement.

Settled and safe (funded by a Legal Services Board grant) is another initiative helping people from newly arrived communities learn more about Australian laws regarding family relationships, and letting them know that no-one has to put up with family violence. It has also strengthened our links to settlement services, creating better referral pathways.

Help for clients

If you don’t speak or understand English well, you can call us to speak to someone in your own language about the law and our services. This service is open Monday to Friday, 8.45 am to 5.15 pm and it is free.

You can call Legal Help on 1300 792 387 and ask for an interpreter or call one of our 14 language lines to speak to us in your own language.

We also have information about our services in different languages and free translated publications.

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