VALS supports clients when they interact with the justice system. When a police notification (VPer) is received involving an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person in Victoria, VALS extends support to the individual. This support may initially take the form of a CSO visit, and subsequently support from one of our dedicated legal teams in Civil, Criminal or Family law.

VALS works with clients to support them during what is often a highly emotional time, providing culturally safe and holistic support to ensure that their needs are met beyond legal service provision alone, often working with other ACCOs and community organisations to ensure that the client is safe, supported and cared for. VALS staff are trained extensively in social work, community services and other associated disciplines. VPer notifications are consented referrals during for non-crisis incidents.

Our model, advocacy and representation

The VALS service provides advocacy and support to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that have been referred via emails by Victoria Police. Clients are referred and supported by their nearest ACCHO, along with Culturally appropriate housing, drug and alcohol treatment, community services and other relevant supports throughout Victoria. Clients receive information and support relating to material aid, financial aid, legal services, counselling services, physical/mental/sexual health, education/employment and training, and other relevant supports that are culturally relevant.

In this period, we advocated on behalf of our people with services such as Centrelink, Department of Justice and Community Safety, Family Support Services, Office of Housing, Department of Health and Human Services, drug and alcohol treatments services, health and mental health practitioners and other relevant services and supports. We assess the needs of our clients that encompass legal, education, employment, housing, income, mental and physical health, as well as a range of other social issues. This work extends to client’s children, carers and spouses, with the aim of providing a holistic service that encompasses the family unit.

We continue to network and advocate for our clients’ needs, including identifying service gaps and highlighting funding opportunities and services to better support our clients.

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.