MEDIA RELEASE 27 August 2020

VALS stands in solidarity with Tanya Day’s family at this incredibly difficult time, and supports their call for accountability and justice. The Day family has courageously and tirelessly advocated for justice for Tanya Day, for an end to police impunity, for no other families to experience the loss and pain they have had to endure.

VALS supports the Day Family’s assertion that “it is in the public interest – and the interests of Aboriginal people across Australia – that the police be held accountable for their actions”. With the Coroner’s referral of Tanya Day’s matter for criminal investigation of the police officers’ conduct, there was an opportunity to achieve justice. This opportunity has been squandered, and it has been squandered in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement gaining momentum across the world, and in Australia.

The Black Lives Matter movement has brought national attention to the long-standing injustice of Aboriginal deaths in custody, with the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being amplified by the solidarity and outrage of non-Aboriginal Australians. And despite the Victorian community demanding that the entrenched injustices of the criminal legal system be addressed, police continue to investigate police, and the system which fails our people continues to fail our people.

Quotes attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

Tanya Day’s family have suffered an immeasurable loss, and they have been courageous and resilient in their pursuit of justice. The system should be a safety net, it should protect us. Aboriginal people should not be dying in custody, and the system has to change. That is what Aboriginal people have been calling for in decades-long advocacy that has been led by the families whose loved ones have died while in custody, while ostensibly in the care of the State.

Changing the system means ending police impunity, it means addressing the legacy of colonisation in our criminal legal system and institutions, it means acknowledging systemic racism and making a genuine commitment to ending it. It means listening to those whose family members have died in custody, and ensuring that justice is done.

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Contact: Andreea Lachsz
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.