inTouch Highlights Urgent Need for Specialised Support Amidst Community Legal Centre Funding Crisis

New research from Women’s Legal Services Australia indicates that 52,000 women experiencing family violence are turned away from legal services every year. Increased and specialised funding must be prioritised, especially for migrant and refugee women.

The plight of women dealing with family violence has reached a critical juncture, following the release of figures from Women’s Legal Services Australia indicating that around 52,000 women a year miss out on access to legal services.  

These figures come ahead of the Federal Budget and a review of the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP), a pivotal funding agreement between the Commonwealth and states aimed at bolstering access to essential legal services. 
The figures, while not inclusive of data specific to inTouch Women’s Legal Centre’s client base of migrant and refugee women experiencing family violence, emphasise the urgent need for sustainable, flexible funding for providers of specialised community legal services.  

Migrant and refugee women experiencing family violence encounter a myriad of complex challenges, including a lack of understanding of the Australian legal system, language barriers necessitating the engagement of interpreters, a higher rate of homeless and unemployment and visa-related issues. The complexities inherent in these cases require increased resources and can hamper a client’s ability to seek and obtain the necessary legal assistance, highlighting the urgent need for funding for tailored support and resources.

“We know that the community legal sector is experiencing considerable shortfalls when it comes to securing appropriate funding,” says inTouch Women’s Legal Centre’s Executive Manager of Legal Services and Principal Lawyer, Ajsela Siskovic. “However, as part of this broader picture, it’s essential that we recognise the significant resources required to support some of the sector’s most vulnerable clients- migrant and refugee women experiencing family violence.”

“When working with our clients, our team invests over three times the typical time and resources needed for an English-speaking client familiar with our judicial system. As our legal centre operates at maximum capacity, we frequently face the difficult decision of turning away clients, which can expose these women to significant safety risks.”

Professor Manjula O’Connor, Chair of the Royal Australian New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Family Violence Psychiatry Network, recognises the positive impact of specialised legal services such as inTouch’s on migrant and refugee women experiencing family violence.

“Women from non-English speaking countries are at multiple risks of human rights abuses- for example many can face being misidentified as the perpetrator of violence, spousal abandonment, dowry abuse and complex forms of post-separation abuse in family law matters,” Professor O’Connor said. “Additionally, uncertainty of their migration status creates additional opportunities for violence and control. Legal services provided by inTouch and similar centres are essential to protect our most vulnerable women from human rights abuses.” 

However, to continue delivering this essential support, inTouch Women’s Legal Centre and similar services require sustainable, measurable funding, acknowledging the unique value community legal centres offer their clients. This funding should reflect both the need and the actual cost of delivering services, particularly for clients with intersectional needs.

“We know that being flexible and innovative with our legal services results in the long-term safety and stability of our clients,” Ms Siskovic said. “If the Government is committed to solving the problem of family violence, it must overhaul the way legal services are funded in this country. Chronic underfunding severely restricts our ability to address the profound impact of family violence, perpetuating cycles of vulnerability and injustice.”

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