Improving access to justice for cross-border communities

Improving access to justice for cross-border communities

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About the report

The Cross-border justice report outlines how Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) and Legal Aid NSW will improve access to legal assistance along the Victorian/New South Wales border.

Many border communities experience complex and unique challenges in accessing justice and have a proportionally higher demand for legal services than other parts of Victoria and New South Wales.

This report highlights some of the issues faced by border communities including that:

  • bail, parole and community corrections orders are imposed with the assumption that clients only travel interstate in exceptional circumstances, meaning there is no flexibility for people who cross the border for work, access support services, or visit family
  • clients seeking legal assistance in border communities are at risk of missing out on the help they need because there are inconsistent approaches to client referrals —both between, and external to, legal aid commissions
  • cross-border community residents may not be able to access the legal services that are physically closest to them because they are located in the other state. 
  • the small number of private practitioners doing legal aid work in some cross-border communities means that it can be difficult for clients to get appropriate legal assistance.
  • family law matters are not always heard at the court closest to where parents reside. This means parents must often go through additional steps and delays to have their matter heard at an appropriate time and location.

The report makes 14 recommendations to address these issues and create opportunities for both legal aid commissions to improve practices and work together more deliberately. This will lead to better outcomes for clients and legal practitioners in these communities.

Download the report

Our recommendations 

Experience of border communities

  1. Legal Aid NSW to investigate options to fund or deliver care and protection services in the Wentworth/Dareton/Balranald area within the next 12 months.
  2. VLA to investigate the legal implications of the way mental health services are provided along the NSW/Victorian border, along with exploring options to improve representation levels at Wangaratta Mental Health Tribunal.
  3. VLA and Legal Aid NSW to advocate for changes to how bail, parole and other community-based orders are applied and enforced in border communities that recognise the need for interstate travel and avoid unfair and unintended outcomes.

Collaboration and coordination of service delivery

  1. Legal Aid NSW to extend the Albury Cooperative Legal Service Delivery Program (CLSD) model to incorporate Wodonga and surrounds.
  2. VLA and Legal Aid NSW enable members of the Albury/Wodonga CLSD model to trial the use of the online referral tool.
  3. VLA to implement co-ordinated sector planning in the Mallee region in the next 18 months.
  4. Community legal education program managers at each legal aid commision to meet at least biannually to explore options to deliver legal education to highlight cross-border issues.
  5. VLA to actively engage with the Victorian Cross-Border Commissioner (once that role has been established and appointed), encourage joint discussions between VLA, Legal Aid NSW and the cross-border commissioners in each state to continue to put access to justice issues on their agenda
  6. VLA and Legal Aid NSW to develop a plan on how to best support private practitioners to deliver high-quality services across both jurisdictions.

Intake assessment and referral

  1. Legal Aid NSW to investigate the possibility of using VLA’s online referral tool or a similar tool to make efficient and effective referrals to clients.
  2. VLA and Legal Aid NSW to develop a protocol for the referral of legal aid applicants between respective grants areas, with particular consideration of the needs of cross-border clients.  

Eligibility in Commonwealth matters (applying the forum test)

  1. VLA and Legal Aid NSW to work together to clarify the application of the forum test and make it more accessible by:
  1. making the descriptions of the forum test consistent across both jurisdictions
  2. trialling a more flexible approach to applying the forum test for border communities.
  1. VLA and Legal Aid NSW to advocate to National Legal Aid that a national review of the forum test be conducted to ensure it is clear, fit-for-purpose and mindful of the unique circumstances of those living along state borders.

Court events

  1. VLA and Legal Aid NSW to highlight the challenges border communities can face to have matters listed in the venue closest to their home, when participating in consultation processes flowing from the restructure of the Family Courts or other relevant reforms.

More information

Fro more information contact Acting Senior Policy and Projects Manager Lesley Ward on Lesley.Ward@vla.vic.gov.au or (03) 9269 0100.


 

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