Social justice for Aboriginal Communities since its establishment in 1973, VALS has been a leader in advocating for social justice for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities in Victoria. We remain committed to closing the “justice gap” and believe that self-determination for Aboriginal communities is at the core of achieving this goal.

We are committed to:

• Promoting the rights of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples to empowerment, identity and culture;

• Ensuring that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples enjoy their rights, are aware of their responsibilities under the law and have access to culturally appropriate advice, assistance and representation;

• Reducing the disproportionate involvement of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in the criminal justice system; and

• Promoting review and amendment of legislation, policies and other practices that discriminate against Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Our advocacy and law reform work includes:

• Strategic litigation;

• Evidence-based policy and law reform work, including making submissions;

• Research aimed at developing and testing new approaches within the legal system;

• Public advocacy through media and social media;

• Advocating directly to the Victorian and Commonwealth government;

• Joint advocacy with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS), Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (ACCOs) and community legal centres;

Ensuring that the voices of Aboriginal communities are heard

We believe that our clients are the best placed to understand the disproportionate impacts of the legal system on Aboriginal communities and their voices and stories must be heard by key decision makers across Victoria.

As a community-controlled organisation, we provide a platform for the voices of our clients and for Aboriginal communities across Victoria. We believe that promoting these voices is the most effective way to achieve sustainable change.

Strategic advocacy priorities

14 April 2020 at VALS, we look for sustainable  responses to legal problems. This means we support investigation and use of therapeutic and preventative approaches to reduce the interaction our clients and community have with the legal system.

In 2020-2021, we will focus on the following objectives:

1. Decriminalising the offence of public drunkenness and development of a holistic health-based response to public intoxication;

2. Amending the bail system to reduce the number of Aboriginal people held on remand;

3. Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years;

4. Ensuring that the unique experiences and background of Aboriginal peoples are taken into account in sentencing decisions, including through Aboriginal Community Justice
Reports;

5. Development and implementation of a culturally safe and comprehensive scheme to redress the Victorian Stolen Generation;

6. Expansion of IBAC’s powers to enable independent and properly resources investigations of serious police misconduct;

7. Development of a new Youth Justice Act and Strategy that will close the justice gap for Aboriginal children and young people in the youth justice system;

8. Improving welfare and outcomes for Victorian prisoners via implementation of OPCAT and creation of a culturally appropriate National Preventive Mechanism in Victoria.

9. Ensuring that Aboriginal children in residential homes are not unnecessarily and disproportionality criminalised;

10. Strengthening compliance with the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (ACPP); Under our current 5-year strategic plan (2020-2025), we also seek to achieve the following:

• Better accountability mechanisms for the community housing sector;

• Investment in culturally appropriate residential bail accommodation and bail support for Aboriginal peoples;

• Expansion of Koori Courts across Victoria in both locations and scope;

• Access to adequate, culturally safe and trauma informed mental health assessments and services for Aboriginal people involved in the criminal justice system;

• Implementation of cultural reports, as a mechanism for taking into account connection to culture, family, community and country, when considering the best interests of the child under the Family Law Act;

• Protection of the rights of extended family members, particularly grandparents, in child protection proceedings.

Contact

For further information about our strategic advocacy and law reform work, please contact our Head of Policy, Communications and Strategy, Andreea Lachsz on alachsz@vals.org.au 

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.