Celebrating the first year of Help Before Court

Celebrating the first year of Help Before Court

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Over 10,000 people have received Help Before Court since we began offering pre-court services in October 2020. The service began with the launch of an online intake tool to give clients and lawyers more time to consider and understand the best approach to resolving their legal matter.

‘Help Before Court has given clients time to tell their story and understand their lawyer’s advice before making a decision that could have a serious impact on their lives,’ said Kate Bundrock, Victoria Legal Aid’s Summary Crime Program Manager.

‘With most court matters moved online due to the extended COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria we know that a vast majority of Help Before Court recipients would not have been able to access legal assistance without the service,’ said Kate.

People can now request Help Before Court by using the intake tool, calling or using webchat to contact Legal Help or by directly contacting one of our regional offices. No matter which pathway, people are assessed by our Intake and Triage team and provided with either legal information, one off legal advice or case conferencing and representation in court.

‘Allowing people to easily contact us before their court date means people are more prepared ahead of time,’ said Kate.

‘We know not everyone is able to contact us before court, but the easier we make it for those who can, the more time the duty lawyer service at court will have available for those people who can’t engage early.

‘This creates a better experience for clients and contributes to a more effective justice system for everyone.’

As our client Felicity said, ‘I know lawyers are always in a rush on court days representing lots of people at once. The Help Before Court process helped [my carer] to help me. My carer did not have to take me to court, and he had more time to get all the reports and paperwork together for me for Legal Aid to represent me.’ 

Felicity’s lawyer said: ‘The Help Before Court process gave me the time to speak with [my client] obtain instructions and organise for support letters and medical materials in a relatively relaxed way without the rush and hustle and bustle of a busy court day.’

For the summary crime system, the more work that is done outside court, the sooner matters are finalised, which contributes to resolving the backlog of cases caused by COVID-19 restrictions.

‘As the justice system continues to manage the impact of COVID-19, it presents an opportunity to deliver a new model of providing services that improves the way people experience the justice system,’ said Kate.

‘We are grateful for the way our staff at Victoria Legal Aid, including lawyers, administration officers and managers, and private practitioners have worked together and overcome challenges to implement this new service to assist people who need our help.

‘We are continuously improving our Help Before Court systems, to ensure clients get better justice, every day.’

As part of that improvement, this year we’ve allocated new resources for additional lawyers in nine VLA offices and established a panel practitioner scheme to help deliver help before court services.

We also formed the triage team to act as our uniform point of intake for all summary crime matters across the state. For VLA offices, having a decentralised, dedicated triage team means that local administration staff can spend more time supporting their most vulnerable clients.

Once COVID-19 restrictions ease we want to continue to provide Help Before Court services alongside our duty lawyer services at court, ensuring we continue to provide high quality services to people who need our assistance in a safe and effective way.

More information

Read Felicity’s story – how Help Before Court made her life easier.

Read Help Before Court  information for panel practitioners.

Access Help Before Court.

 

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