23 June 2022
VALS has made the difficult decision to implement a new client freeze in our Criminal Law practice. This will mean that we will not be taking on new clients in the Criminal Law practice at this time. We will refer community members looking for criminal legal advice and representation to other services.
This decision has been made due to a lack of funding to expand Aboriginal Legal Service which has left us unable to keep up with demand and teams like our Criminal Law Practice are critically overstretched. Not only had demand driven by the law and order agenda of the Andrews Government overwhelmed our service but also the ongoing COVID-19 backlog and delays, lack of workforce and the intensity of service required for complex clients.
Aboriginal people deserve high quality, culturally safe legal representation. It would not be fair to our clients if we continued to take on client which could affect our ability to maintain the standard of representation they deserve.
Our Criminal Law Team work incredibly hard and understand the need for their services and the safety it affords Aboriginal Communities. However, the current workloads represent an OH&S risk and we cannot risk the welfare of our staff. Attracting and retaining staff is an ongoing challenge in light of our continued funding crisis despite our persistent advocacy.
The client freeze will initially be in place for 3 months. If caseloads continue to safe levels after this initial period, the Board will review the situation to determine whether an extension to the freeze is necessary. It will take some time for the existing caseload to be worked through before levels return to an appropriate level, especially if we are not provided with extra funding by the Andrews Government.
We will continue to work with the Andrews Government, particularly the Attorney-General, to help find the funding we need to meet the demand for our services. We have a good relationship with the Attorney-General and we know that she values the work of VALS, particularly the importance of our service in rural and regional communities. At the recent Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearings into the budget, the Attorney-General noted her admiration for VALS and said that “it is an army of work that is produced out of that organisation… I am always working to ensure that we can best support them.”
Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of VALS
“I know this decision will be incredibly difficult for the community. They will be angry and they have a right to be angry. I am angry too. We work so hard to do as much as possible with the limited funding we have, but I cannot compromise the welfare of our staff or compromise on the quality of our staff.”
“The decision to freeze new client intake is not an easy decision for myself and the Board. A lack of funding and increasing demand has unfortunately forced us to make this decision.”
“I have had many meetings with the Attorney-General and her staff about our funding needs and I am confident they will act swiftly to help resolve the current situation.”
“We hope that new funding is made available soon and that our caseloads return to healthy levels.”