The ACJP Program is a volunteer-based community initiative supporting communities and individuals needing assistance in justice or legal related matters. The Panels take a diversionary approach in supporting preventative initiatives for community and individual participation as well as providing direct support through a ‘Call-Out’ service to individuals held in Police custody.

The primary roles of the ACJP Panels include:

  • liaising with legal and welfare agencies to assist in the delivery of services to Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system;
  • assisting to minimise contact of Aboriginal persons with the criminal justice system by working with the police and other agencies on appropriate diversionary programs; and
  • assisting police in assuring the safety of Aboriginal persons in custody.

There are currently twelve ACJPs across Victoria in the following localities:

  • Shepparton
  • Echuca
  • Swan Hill/Robinvale
  • Mildura
  • Horsham
  • Portland/Heywood
  • Warrnambool
  • Geelong
  • Bendigo
  • Ballarat
  • Northern Metropolitan
  • Dandenong

Although the initial contact point when Aboriginal people are arrested continues to remain a vital focus, ACJPs have been involved in a range of other activities including:

  • Follow-up support with families and persons who may have contact with Police;
  • School holiday program support, positive alcohol, drug and violence free children’s activities;
  • Crisis and emergency/welfare relief;
  • Support for drug and alcohol-free sporting events including football, netball, and basketball; and
  • Attending various community justice related meetings including: LAJAC, IFVRAG, LAECG, Aboriginal Health and Well-Being, Drug and Alcohol, Corrections, Sheriffs’ and Police.

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.