Response to criticism about misplaced priorities

Response to criticism about misplaced priorities

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Photo of a Working With Children Check card in a wallet.

Yesterday the Herald Sun published two articles criticising Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) for running a Working with Children Check (WWCC) appeal in the Supreme Court.

This selective criticism and depiction of a single individual who cannot be identified for legal reasons may cause a reader to believe that VLA has misplaced priorities and is not acting in the community interest.

We respectfully disagree.

The Working with Children Check scheme is an important system to keep children safe from harm by screening people who work with or care for them and the safety of children remains quite properly paramount in any decision that is taken. The important aim of keeping children safe exists alongside other related aims of ensuring access to employment, both paid and voluntary, for people with criminal histories when they re-enter society as most will do.

The community interest is satisfied when children are safe and when conditions do not unnecessarily prevent people from working and engaging with the community.  Failure to find employment and to engage with community is a key driver of repeat offending which is not in the community’s interest.

The WWCC scheme reaches far and wide into the community with more than 20% of Victorian adults holding a notice and more than 200,000 applications considered each year.

In the eleven years since the scheme was introduced there continues to be very few decisions that are challenged despite the significance of a refusal on employment prospects and community participation. Less than 50 applications to VCAT for review of a decision to issue a negative notice occur each year.

There are even fewer appeals to the Supreme Court – only eight in the eleven years since the scheme was introduced. Fifty per cent of these appeals (or 4 in total) were initiated by the Department to challenge a VCAT decision to grant a person a notice and the other fifty per cent were lodged by aggrieved persons who were refused a notice.  VLA has been involved in three of these appeals at rate of about one every four years.

Supreme Court decisions provide important guidance for the public servants who are charged with making these difficult decisions. VLA’s work in this area helps ensure that decisions are made fairly and objectively, not arbitrarily. Our work supports our system of laws and democratic safeguards upon which our modern cohesive society is based.

Appeals like the one in question are important to guide administrative decision making and are only taken to advance the public interest by clarifying and contributing to the necessary body of law.

Of course, any appeal needs to be based on an individual and their circumstances. It goes without saying that their prior offending will be concerning or else they would have been granted a notice. It is pertinent to note that the individual concerned enjoys considerable family support. It is also important to state that the individual case in question is currently before the Court and judgement has been reserved. The case is also subject to an interim suppression order designed to assist the applicant’s family and children. 

The merits of this case will be appropriately determined by a court and not by public opinion.

Whatever the outcome the reasoning of the Supreme Court will contribute helpful guidance for future decisions and reviews of those decisions.  

More information

Read more about Working With Children Checks

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