Continuing essential legal services and safeguarding Victorians during COVID-19

Continuing essential legal services and safeguarding Victorians during COVID-19

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Our 2019–20 quarter four report shows the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on service demands and the justice system as Victoria adapted to the COVID-19 restrictions.

During this time we continued to provide Victorians with essential legal services while safeguarding our clients, staff and the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Victoria Legal Aid CEO Louise Glanville said, ‘the final quarter of the financial year coincided with the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 which has had devastating consequences for the Victorian community.

‘Emergencies such as these have the potential to both create and exacerbate existing community legal need and can unfairly impact those who need access to legal help the most.

‘As restrictions came into place we continued to deliver essential legal services to our clients, particularly in priority areas like family violence, child protection, and bail and remand; communicating with our clients over the phone where possible and providing legal representation in court via digital platforms,’ said Louise.

In acknowledgement of these rapidly changing demands, we welcomed additional funding as part of a $17.5 million package from the State and Commonwealth Governments for frontline legal services responding to the changing demands for legal assistance during the pandemic. This will ensure Victorians have access to justice and receive fair, equitable treatment in the justice system in times of crisis.

‘It’s important we stay united with our partners and the broader legal assistance sector to continue to provide essential services to those who need it most – our clients and the wider Victorian community who continue to show resilience and strength while adapting to a changing justice system,’ said Louise. 

However, our financial future is challenging. We expect the demand for our services to continue to grow faster than our funding, excluding the short-term impacts of court service changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are also experiencing increased volatility of our funding sources, including our distribution from the Legal Services Board Public Purpose Fund.

The report shows we ended the financial year with a significant surplus of $17 million. However, this is not a true reflection of our underlying financial performance.

This primarily relates to funding for specific projects where the expenditure will not be incurred until 2020–21 (such as COVID-19 and bushfires), and is also impacted by the accounting treatment of Digital Legal Aid project funding.

Taking this into account, our surplus at the end of financial year is closer to $4 million. This figure is the result of a significant deferral of case and trial expenditure into future years due to changes in court practices in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are working with our partners in the justice sector to ensure we continue to deliver high quality legal assistance in line with the funding we receive, to ensure the ongoing viability of our services.

We will continue to work with the Department of Justice and Community Safety to determine sustainable funding solutions.

Our 2019–20 annual report will be tabled later this year and provides more detail about service delivery and demand.

More information

Read the 2019–20 quarter four report.

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