Increased complexity and multiple problems are becoming the norm for people experiencing legal issues, according to the only community legal service on the Border. Hume Riverina Community Legal Service Manager & Principal Lawyer Sarah Rodgers told the audience at the annual Report to the Community on 7 November.

“We continue to strive to direct our resources to the most vulnerable people and not just give a single advice for those people but walk alongside them through the casework process,” Ms Rodgers said. “More than half our work is directed to supporting people who are affected by family violence including through duty lawyer services, advice and casework assistance with not only intervention orders but also the flow-on legal issues such as family law, debts, fines, consumer law and victims of crime.”

Victorian Cross Border Commissioner Luke Wilson was special guest speaker and spoke about causes behind some of the issues that people experience on a regular basis. These include a need for cross-border impacts to be factored into Government and local-level planning, and funding guidelines recognising the unique circumstances in border regions.

Mr Wilson highlighted issues with P and L plate drivers, TAFE/ VET access, RSA certification and Trade licensing as being brought to his office’s attention. Mr Wilson encouraged people to consider solutions to the problems they faced in working and living on the Border, and to connect with his office and local MPs to discuss how they could be addressed.

HRCLS Principal Lawyer Sarah Rodgers, Allison Bruce, Karen Bowley, Karen Keegan and UMFC CEO Luke Rumbold celebrate the legal service’s 20th Birthday.

HRCLS also celebrated its 20th Birthday with a panel including former principal lawyers Karen Bowley and Karen Keegan, as well as current Albury & District Law Society president Allison Bruce, who started with the service in 1999 as a paralegal assistant.

Launched on 28 July 1999 by the Federal Attorney General Daryl Williams, HRCLS was known as the Albury Wodonga Community Legal Service before a name change via a community competition in 2009.

Ms Rodgers said the service had grown from four staff to 16, helped in more than 4800 cases and had been fortunate to have significant assistance from private lawyers who volunteered their time to help people needing legal advice.

“In 20 years, we have given more than 29,000 advice sessions and of those, over 5600 advice sessions were provided by our volunteers,” she said.

2018-19 HRCLS highlights

HRCLS Annual Report 2018-19

HRCLS 2018-19 Snapshot

20th Birthday panel

Thanks to Tenants Victoria for their tireless advocacy to get a better deal for renters in Victoria. Changes to the Residential Tenancies Act due to this strong advocacy will have a positive impact for thousands of people, who will now be treated fairer when they rent a place to call home. We were proud to join Tenants Victoria in their fight to stand up for regional Victorians, and thank them for their letter to acknowledge our support.

Tenants Victoria_Thanks for your support HRCLS

A three-year pilot project to increase access to free legal assistance for young people experiencing, or at-risk of, family violence has resulted in many legal problems being fixed for those who would not normally get help from a lawyer.

In a Border first, the innovative Invisible Hurdles project saw Hume Riverina Community Legal Service embed a free lawyer into three organisations:  Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service (AWAHS), Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre and North East Support and Action for Youth Inc. (NESAY). Throughout the project, over 100 people were assisted with legal problems who would not have otherwise accessed a lawyer.

In launching the Invisible Hurdles Report, Overcoming the Invisible Hurdles to Justice for Young People, on Thursday 8 November, HRCLS Principal Lawyer Sarah Rodgers said of the many reasons behind the project’s success, the significant commitment by the partners was crucial to the outcomes.

“Co-location, relationship-building and trust, along with our availability and ability to respond quickly to legal problems, were central to us more effectively reaching the young people we want to help,” Ms Rodgers said. “As an independent community legal centre, we have the flexibility to help people for free, and without the strict guidelines that apply to accessing legal aid.”

Ms Rodgers said the service was proud to be part of the Integrated Justice Practice, combining health, education and legal services, which had proven to be very effective in getting legal issues because of the early intervention.

“This model is needed to help prevent legal problems from escalating and gives the best chance of a positive outcome,” she said. “Part of our strategic focus is ensuring young people experiencing family violence have the legal support they need to deal with the issues.”

North East Support and Action for Youth Inc. CEO Leah Waring said a positive ripple effect had been created relationships enhanced, while providing an opportunity for NESAY employees to gain new skills.

“Our staff now have the ability to identify a potential legal problem, and have the confidence to refer people they’re seeing who need legal advice to the Invisible Hurdles lawyer,” she said. “Our young people would be highly unlikely to make an appointment for help from the lawyer without encouragement from a support work they trust. And our young people are staggered they can see a lawyer for free, so without the Invisible Hurdles project, the opportunities for them to get legal help basically don’t exist.”

Dr Liz Curran, Associate Professor of Law at the ANU College of Law, led the research and evaluation of the project with Pamela Taylor-Barnett. Dr Curran said the research showed how allowing time for natural progression and learning was pivotal.

“The most important thing we learnt was that young people, the vulnerable and even professional services providers don’t trust lawyers and the legal system and that trust takes time to build,” Dr Curran said. “In the final year of the project, when those relationships were strong and working smoothly, we saw a massive increase in referrals and consultations – 288 in the final 12 months of the project.”

The first two years of the Invisible Hurdles project was made possible through funding received from the Victorian Legal Services Board Grant Program. Stage 2 funding for a further two years was announced on 29 October 2018.

Invisible Hurdles Report – Overcoming the Invisible Hurdles to Justice for Young People is online.

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