Aims

VALS’ aims are to provide high quality assistance consistent with:

  • VALS’ obligations under the Contract. with the Attorney-General’s Department (Cth) to provide legal aid services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Victoria.

  • Legal professional practice and ethical obligations.

  • The relative needs of individual clients.
Objectives

VALS’ objectives are to:

  • Address both the causes and effects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience far higher rates of adverse contact with the justice system than do other Australians, and are incarcerated at significantly higher rates than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They are also one of the most profoundly disadvantaged groups in Australian society, falling well below relevant national benchmarks on virtually every measure of well-being and socio-economic status.

  • Improve the access of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to high quality and culturally appropriate legal aid services so that they can fully exercise their legal rights as Australian citizens.

  • Improve both the quality and efficiency of service delivery to the ultimate benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.

  • Better prioritise and target available resources to ensure that services are responsive to established policy priorities and community needs, and to provide the best possible quality of service to individual clients.
 
 
 
Related Objectives

VALS’ related objectives are to:

  • Emphasise the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services taking a striving approach to promoting social justice, rights, and empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Be proactive and bring about tangible and long-term outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, groups and communities in Victoria.
  • Promote the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to identity and culture.
  • Ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enjoy their rights, are aware of their responsibilities under the law and have access to appropriate legal representation.
  • Protect and promote the particular legal rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children.
  • Reduce the disproportionate involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the criminal justice system.
  • Promote the review of legislation and other practices which discriminate against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Bring about reform of the law, and practices relating to the law, that unfairly effect or discriminate against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Engage in law and policy reform work to reduce the disproportionate involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the criminal justice system and to promote the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective on other human and civil rights issues.
  • Research issues effecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • As far as possible provide legal services in ways that aim to empower and educate clients and focus on prevention and rehabilitation.
  • Contribute to and/or lead efforts to establish programs or facilities that divert Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from the justice system where appropriate.
  • Actively work to coordinate and liaise with other legal services for the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to ensure maximum access to all legal services.
  • Actively work to coordinate and liaise with a wide range of other relevant services and bodies to promote availability and accessibility of programs and services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Provide culturally appropriate education programs and resources with the aim of promoting the rights and freedoms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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.