14 December 2021

It has been 200 days since VALS and over 50 other human rights, legal, and community organisations wrote to the Andrews Government about the need for urgent bail reform.

200 days later, the Andrews Government has remained committed to an uncompromising and harsh law and order approach that has a devastating impact on families and communities.

The Andrews Government created draconian new bail laws in 2017. The prison population has grown by 20% since the Government was first elected without improving community safety. Almost half of the people in Victoria’s prisons are on remand, meaning they have not been found guilty. Aboriginal women are the fastest growing demographic in Victoria’s prisons.

Greater access to bail was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The Andrews Government has an ambitious reform agenda for Aboriginal justice, with the Treaty process and Yoo-rrook Justice Commission under way. To ensure these processes lead to meaningful change, the Andrews Government must also stop the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Our consultations with the Government, as well as independent media reports, indicate that the Andrews Government has decided not to act on bail reform until after the 2022 election. The Government is putting votes first, rather than saving lives. This political decision demonstrates that the Government is out of touch with what Victorians want – a fair, just, equitable legal system that actually improves community safety.

We need urgent bail reform that reflects a commitment to rehabilitation and reintegration. This is a crisis that needs to be fixed immediately.

You can find out more about the need for urgent bail reform at www.vals.org.au/fix-victorias-bail-laws.  

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of VALS:

“When politicians make cynical political calculations and sacrifice Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for votes, the message they send is that our lives, our families, our communities and our dignity do not matter.”

“Every day that we wait for Government action on bail reform in Victoria, more Aboriginal people are thrown into Victoria’s prisons for minor offending that would be more effectively addressed within community. This is a crisis.”

“If we don’t fix Victoria’s bail laws urgently, much of the Andrews Government’s reform agenda will be put at risk – including the Treaty process and the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission.”

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.