The Custody Notification Officers (CNOs) are key to the operation of the State’s CNO system. The Custody Notification System runs on a 24/7 basis with the CNO’s being the first contact point between a community member in custody at local police station, the police officers investigating the matter, and a VALS Criminal Lawyer.

The five full-time CNO’s work a 24-hour roster from Monday – Friday afternoon, and the casual staff work a roster from Friday evening to Monday morning. They check on the health and wellbeing of people in custody, liaise with police and contact out of hours legal advice from our lawyers when they need to. CNO’s manage relationships with 332 police stations across the State.

Between 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2018, the notification team processed over 11,100 individual notifications from police stations regarding Aboriginal people in custody. On average each notification generates a minimum of five additional calls ensuring the client’s wellbeing is being monitored, liaising with police, providing legal advice, notifying family or friends, and locating other appropriate supports services. The Metropolitan CNO Program received in excess of 55,500 phone calls during this period.

The Metropolitan CNO Program is also instrumental in providing employment pathways for our people. Through our Casual Weekend CNO section, several Aboriginal people have gained full time employment at VALS as Lawyers, Client Service Officers, Paralegals, Local Justice Workers, and Admin Support.

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.

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.

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.