Partner update on COVID-19

Partner update on COVID-19

Friday, 20 March 2020

This is a challenging time for all of us and justice services remain an essential service. Like many of our partners in the justice sector, we are looking at how we continue to deliver services while ensuring the health and safety of the community, our partners and our staff.

Earlier this week we implemented some changes to our services, and we now need to introduce a range of further precautionary measures to ensure we are doing all we can for our staff and to contribute to the prevention effort.

From Monday 23 March we will introduce the following measures:

  • The majority of duty lawyer services will be delivered via phone or other conferencing facilities and not face-to-face. The Federal and Family Courts have already moved to phone based services.
  • We will provide limited in person appearances while we work with the courts to move to remote service delivery over the coming week and work through any remote conferencing constraints as best we can.
  • We will not be accepting clients and visitors at our office reception areas. There will be an exception of time limited contact for visitors or clients that may have language or literacy issues to assist them to access our phone based services.
  • Many of our staff have shifted to work from home arrangements and we will continue to encourage this.

We know that these measures will cause some disruption and we appreciate our partners working with us to continue to deliver legal assistance in safe and practical ways during this time.

What this means for people doing legal aid work

There will likely be disruptions to some services as we implement alternative working arrangements or reduced service levels to support staff health and wellbeing measures. We will continue to assess the need for other measures in the coming days and will consider these as the need arises. 

Private practitioner duty lawyer schemes and capacity briefing

Our private practitioner duty lawyer schemes (PPDLS) and ad hoc briefing of practitioners will continue, subject to changes to court lists and practice. We will provide updates in relation to specific lists as more information becomes available. We also encourage you check regularly for updates from the courts.

We are working closely with the courts to put in place systems which allow lawyers, including our practice partners, to deliver as many duty services as possible by phone or video conferencing, to minimise the risk of close contact. If you regularly deliver duty lawyer services for VLA, your local VLA office or the relevant VLA Program Manager will make contact with you in the coming days to discuss how we can work together to continue to safely deliver services within the current operating environment. We will circulate details of the new working arrangements to you in the coming days.

We appreciate that recent payments to practitioners for some PPDLS services were late. We apologise for these delays, and acknowledge the considerable impact they have had on some practitioners. We are prioritising work to ensure prompt payment of invoices from now on but are greatly assisted by practitioners consistently invoicing in a timely manner and sending these invoices electronically.

Grants of aid

You can apply for and manage grants of aid as usual. Some practitioners have communicated their concern about having to obtain a client's signature on an application for aid. We are working on an alternative which better supports social distancing, and will advise practitioners as soon as this is in place.

Our Assignments team is experiencing a higher than usual volume of email and telephone inquiries. We appreciate your patience as we respond as quickly as possible to everyone.

Business continuity

We appreciate this is a difficult and uncertain time for everyone working in the legal assistance sector. Many of you will already be experiencing disruptions associated with preventative measures, including implementing alternative working arrangements, reduced staff availability and modified service provision models.

If you are concerned about ensuring continuity of service for any of your legally aided clients, we ask that you contact us as early as possible. If your concern relates to a grant of aid, please contact Kristina Lanza. If you are concerned about your ongoing capacity to provide duty lawyer services, please contact the relevant PPDLS Coordinator or Managing Lawyer.

LIV has released guidance on practice contingency planning which may also be of interest.

Training and events

All face to face VLA training and events have been postponed. Our suite of online resources, including recordings of training sessions and e-learning modules, remain accessible to all panel practitioners.

Register to access the collection by emailing Hala Atwa, Manager of Professional Legal Education.

Quality audit and panels

Our Panels and Quality Assurance teams are changing the way they work to ensure they can continue to process panels applications and conduct audits.

They will be asking practitioners to submit electronic files in place of physical files. We are mindful of competing pressures and priorities for our practice partners at this time. We also ask for your understanding if the assessment of Panels applications takes longer than usual.

Was this helpful?