Happy ten years to our Community Legal Centre!

A decade ago, inTouch conducted research which indicated that the navigation of the Australian justice system can be a challenging process for migrant and refugee women who experience family violence. There can be multiple obstacles, such as language barriers, limited knowledge of the Australian legal system, prejudicial attitudes, and inadequate support from services.

Staff and officials at inTouch Legal Centre Launch, 2012

To address this, inTouch established an integrated, specialised community legal centre that operates at the intersection of family violence, migration and family law, providing assistance to clients who are already receiving support from inTouch’s case management. Over the last 12 months, we assisted 498 new clients with legal matters and 314 clients with migration concerns- a number that is expected to grow over the coming year.

Our lawyers, migration agent and paralegals have worked in a variety of settings, and most of the team are migrants and refugees themselves. Primarily, inTouch’s Legal Centre provides services in the following areas-

  • Protection from family violence – intervention orders
  • Family law – dispute resolution including parenting matters
  • Small property settlements and financial matters
  • Immigration and visa assistance
  • Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) applications
  • Divorce and advice clinics

In the 2021-22 financial year, our Legal Centre welcomed a new Principal Lawyer as well as a Legal Centre Manager, who worked with staff to transition to a digital legal practice management system, establish a volunteer program to support staff and strengthen our stakeholder relations and project strategies. This leadership team brought our complement of staff and volunteers to nine, our largest yet.

It has been a busy year in terms of the centre’s caseload, plus our efforts to refine and expand our service and improve accessibility to prompt and suitable legal and migration support for our clients.

Part of inTouch’s recent work expanding these legal pathways has involved strengthening our Health Justice Partnerships (HJPs), an innovative model of service delivery that connects legal and health professionals to deliver comprehensive outcomes to clients. This method of embedding legal expertise within a healthcare setting (like hospitals), allows professionals to engage with people who might not know they need or qualify for legal assistance- often a direct referral pathway for free legal advice for migrant and refugee women experiencing family violence. The inTouch Community Legal Centre currently has a partnership with Monash Health, and will be expanding to provide monthly advice for clients through Your Community Health in early 2023.

“As a part of our Health Justice Partnership, Monash Health refer their patients directly to us, without the need to go through our case management process. Recently, a patient with very limited English and system literacy was misidentified as the perpetrator of family violence by the police and removed from the family home. The client was an inpatient when we spoke to her, still recovering from the physical injuries she sustained from the incident and was highly distressed and confused. She did not know that the police had applied for an IVO against her or what that meant, did not know where her children were (the youngest being 2 years old), and was incredibly fearful that Child Protection would take her children away from her. After advocating for the client with Child Protection and Victoria Police, we were eventually able to have the IVO against the client varied to a limited IVO, which meant that she could return home and have contact with her children. The client has now reunited with her children and is living in the family home. This case is an example of how important early intervention is. If we hadn’t acted quickly and advocated for the client so early on, there is a very real chance that she could have ended up separated from her children and without stable accommodation.”

– inTouch Legal Team Member

The Legal Centre have also established ongoing monthly Divorce Clinics, which are held in-person and assist clients with online divorce applications. Generally, these applications are not overly complex, and our team are well-positioned to guide a small group through the filing. inTouch have also developed checklists and information in plain English to ensure clients are well prepared and understand the process.

Similarly, we’re also in the process of setting up weekly VOCAT clinics. The Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal was established to acknowledge and provide financial assistance to victims of crime committed in Victoria, to assist them in their recovery. This can pay for items like counselling, medical and safety expenses. We’ll also be collaborating with RMIT to integrate law students in support of these clinics- having these volunteers working with us will free up inTouch staff to assist clients with other matters.

The next twelve months will be even busier for our legal centre staff as we broaden and elevate our work and systems – allowing inTouch to help migrant and refugee women who have experienced family violence to get support more rapidly.