3 September 2021

The VALS Board is delighted that we can accept new clients in the week of 6 September, further to a decision to lift a new client intake freeze in place since 20 May 2021.

The freeze was regrettably needed to relieve VALS staff of unsafe workloads caused in part from a surging incarcerated population and the COVID pandemic. We ensured that we made warm referrals of prospective clients to other legal assistance providers including Djirra and Victorian Legal Aid. We are grateful to those partners.

This is hugely important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria. Having access to high quality, holistic, culturally safe legal services is vital to helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people navigate Victoria’s justice system.

VALS management and staff have worked tirelessly and with partners including the Department of Justice and Community Safety to implement effective demand management strategies, including recruiting new staff. We look forward to continuing our strong working relationships with government and partners in Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and legal assistance providers to ensure that Aboriginal legal services.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria can contact VALS by calling 1800 064 865 or fill out the form on our website vals.org.au/contacts.

Quotes Attributable to George Selvanera, Acting CEO, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“VALS thanks all of our partners for their support. We would not have been able to get to this stage without their guidance and support.”

“I encourage any Aboriginal person in need of legal advice or support to call VALS as soon as they can.”

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.