Victoria Legal Aid

Providing an holistic service to those in need

Embedded at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre in Collingwood on Wurundjeri country, our lawyers play a crucial role in assisting clients with pressing legal needs.

Tuesday 7 December 2021 2:55am
Senior Lawyer Charlie Watson
Senior Lawyer Charlie Watson

Located in Collingwood and on Wurundjeri country, the Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC)External Link was launched in 2007 and is a one-stop-justice centre that houses the three arms of justice (police, courts and corrections).

One of 80 community justice centres worldwide and comprising a multi-jurisdictional court with a range of support services and crime prevention and community engagement programs, the NJC adopts a therapeutic justice approachExternal Link in both its work within the court, and its community programs.

The co-location of agencies also facilitates a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to working with those appearing before the courts, and assists our lawyers at NJC with providing holistic support to clients.

By having lawyers based at the service, we are not only well placed to support client’s access to the various support services to assist in their rehabilitation, we are also able to contribute and participate in NJC justice innovation, crime prevention and education initiatives.

Our representation at the NJC

Our Senior Lawyer Charlie Watson is embedded at the NJC and shares a floor with Fitzroy Legal Service, police prosecutions, community corrections, client services and the Program and Innovations Team.

‘I represent clients at the NJC with criminal matters (both Magistrates’ Court and Children's Court) and intervention orders on a duty lawyer basis, as well as ongoing case work.

‘I also lead our involvement in the NJC model through participation in NJC leadership team meetings and the Court Practices Group, as well as contributing to various NJC projects and participating in community engagement and legal education,’ said Charlie.

Charlie enjoys the role as it enables him to provide help at the coalface to those with pressing legal needs via a therapeutic model with proven success.

‘I appreciate being based at the NJC in a shared workspace with all the different agencies, and being able to participate in meetings with other stakeholders.

‘I gain great satisfaction representing and engaging with disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our community and, in collaboration with support services, assisting their pathway to rehabilitation.

‘The NJC Client Services Model has 17 local treatment agencies with specialist staff to deal with a range of issues including drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, housing and family violence.

‘The only eligibility criteria to access these services is to live in the City of Yarra or have a matter listed at the NJC. So, whether a client is on remand or appearing for the first time in a family violence matter, we can make immediate referrals to a range of services, and those services are able to engage with our clients without delay.

‘The accessibility and breadth of these services is a key reason why the NJC model is a success, and I find the culture of collaboration and problem solving very rewarding,’ said Charlie.

Challenges at the NJC

It’s just as well that the spirit of collegiality is strong at the NJC as there are plenty of challenges in this workspace.

‘If you spend a significant period of time at the NJC you will see a lot of familiar faces coming back time and time again, highlighting their entrenched disadvantage and complex personal circumstances.

‘This has highlighted to me that there are different ways of measuring success in a client’s rehabilitation, and it is important not to be defined by simply whether a client has reoffended or not.

‘The reality is that any ‘success’ story we see is the end point of a journey that has many failures and setbacks, and where the lawyer and support services no doubt felt that at times their work was futile,’ said Charlie.

Our commitment to therapeutic justice

Much of the work undertaken by Charlie and the NJC is reinforced by our commitment to therapeutic justice.

Therapeutic justice is an evidence-based approach to law and sentencing which recognises that a purely punitive approach is not effective in changing behaviour and keeping communities safe. It acknowledges that punishment alone does not prevent crime, but rather addressing the causes of crime does. These causes are often present in a large proportion of offenders from disadvantaged backgrounds and include poverty, unemployment, family violence, substance abuse, trauma and mental health issues.

Elanor Peattie, Managing Lawyer, Therapeutic Courts is a strong advocate of the NJC and its commitment to therapeutic justice.

‘Therapeutic justice is underpinned by behavioural science and looks at how the law can be applied in a way that promotes the wellbeing of those using the justice system, and helps them to engage with the system.

‘For example, the magistrate or judge might ask the person open questions aimed at assisting them to identify the reasons why they offended, the harm they are causing themselves and others by offending and to take responsibility and identify what they need to change.

‘From this foundation, the court works with the person to develop a plan for rehabilitation, including engaging with a range of support services to assist them in making positive change. The court supervises the progress of the person via regular reviews and open dialogue, exploring the progress they have made and any barriers they are encountering,’ said Elanor.

It is critical to the process that the person is given voice and agency by the court, they are treated with respect and that a trauma informed approach is adopted. This ensures the person understands the processes, builds trust and makes it more likely they will meaningfully engage in their rehabilitation.

While the workload and long list of cases can be challenging for her team, Elanor firmly believes that therapeutic approaches and community justice centres such as the NJC are the way forward.

‘Therapeutic justice aims to promote the wellbeing of all those involved in the justice system, including clients, lawyers, magistrates and judges, police and other agencies working in the system.

‘Through understanding our clients' challenges and assisting them to create positive change, our wellbeing is also enhanced,’ said Elanor.

More information

Read about the role of the Neighbourhood Justice Centre.External Link

See how Effective therapeutic approaches in the justice systemExternal Link benefit clients.

Learn more about Specialist courts in Victoria that embrace therapeutic justice.External Link

Reviewed 19 April 2022