VALS provides free legal advice and representation for the Koori community.


VALS has an “On-Call” after-hours service which is provided through the Preston office. All calls before 9.00am and after 5.00pm are diverted to the rostered On-call Client Service Officer (CSO).

The services VALS provides are as follows:
    • Information, initial legal advice, minor assistance and referral;
    • Duty lawyer assistance;
    • Legal casework services including representation and assistance, covering Criminal Law, Civil Law and Family Law matters.

Information
Each of the VALS’ offices can provide basic legal information.

Initial Legal Advice
Initial legal advice is the provision of legal advice or information that is not provided as part of duty lawyer work or casework. It includes referrals, preliminary assistance, the writing of short letters and completion of forms.

Minor assistance
Minor assistance is helping with phone calls or letters and advocacy in dealing with other services.

Referral
A VALS’ staff member will use his or her professional judgement in making an appropriate referral having reference to the lists of appropriate sources of referral and assistance maintained by VALS.

Duty Lawyer assistance
Duty Lawyers provide advice and/or representation in urgent matters to people who have not been able to arrange legal representation. For instance, all applications (i.e. for bail or adjournments) are performed on a Duty Lawyer basis where the matter is completed in one day. A matter not completed on the same day is called a Casework matter.

Legal Casework
Legal Casework is legal representation and assistance, covering criminal, civil and family law matters. It is matters where VALS provides ongoing legal services (i.e. assistance continues after the first day of contact) to a client in relation to a particular legal problem.

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.