MEDIA RELEASE 4 September 2020

Despite it being nearly 30 years since the recommendations were handed down by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, a further 439 Aboriginal lives have been lost within the justice system. This week the Alice Springs court heard the accounts of Kumanjayi Walker, a 19-year-old, Warlpiri man, who was fatally shot three times by Constable Zachary Rolfe in Yuendumu last year.

Throughout the history of colonised Australia very few police officers have been charged with murder, let alone stood trial, for taking an Aboriginal life. Should the court proceed with the murder charge against Rolfe, the recognition will be of great significance to the 439 families and communities who were not able to find closure for the loss of their loved ones. The court heard yesterday that the committal hearing will be adjourned until 25 September.

Quotes attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“VALS stands in solidarity with Kumanjayi Walker’s family and community as they continue to demonstrate immense strength, waiting for justice to be served. In the spotlight of the Black Lives Matter movement, the court’s decision on how to proceed will be pivotal for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia. Here at VALS we watch in anticipation and hope for change.”

Contact: Andreea Lachsz alachsz@vals.org.authecasinoapps.com

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.