Echuca needs better access to legal and support services: lawyer

By Ivy Jensen

A LAWYER is calling Echuca residents to have greater access to legal and support services to better deal with the skyrocketing number of court orders and help stop the cycle of family violence.

Victoria Legal Aid Loddon-Campaspe region deputy managing lawyer Majella Foster-Jones said in regional areas like Echuca, there was a significant lack of support services and referral options for young people who used violence in the home.

“Legal advice and support play an important role in keeping families safe and the users of family violence accountable for their actions,” Ms Foster-Jones said.

“However, in regional areas like Echuca, there can be limits on resources, increasing the need for clients to travel or wait to access services.

“For the justice system to be able to improve its response to the increased numbers of intervention order applications and to have capacity to interrupt cycles of violence, people in regional areas like Echuca need greater access to legal advice, as well as support services, emergency accommodation, counselling and behavioural change programs to manage family violence.”

In the 2018-19 financial year, Victoria Legal Aid lawyers provided 102 family violence duty lawyer services at Echuca Magistrates Court for family violence intervention order matters.

This represented about 13 per cent of its duty lawyer work at Echuca.

“This figure doesn’t include services funded by Legal Aid but provided by Campaspe Community Legal Centre, or private lawyers,” Ms Foster-Jones said.

“There has been a strong increase in the number of duty lawyer services for family violence intervention orders provided by Victoria Legal Aid throughout Victoria, and Echuca is no exception.

“Since the Royal Commission into Family Violence, police are taking the issue very seriously and more people in the community are more aware of family violence and what sort of behaviour is violent or criminal. This means more applications for intervention orders are being brought to court.”

Unfortunately, many respondents do not understand their actions constitute family violence, according to Ms Foster-Jones.

“As lawyers, we can explain what constitutes family violence and why a respondent’s actions may be violent or criminal,” she said.

“In order to keep families and the community safe, it is important for respondents to be able to access legal advice so they can better understand the repercussions of their behaviour and of breaching an order.

“Sometimes, without legal advice, respondents may not understand an order and then go on to breach it, potentially escalating family violence and trauma for families.”

Ms Foster-Jones said the service provided both applicants and respondents appropriate referrals to services such as behavioural change programs.

“At VLA, we recognise the importance of keeping families safe, by ensuring people get help as early as possible to deal with violent behaviour,” she said.

“A great number of young people who engage in family violence in the home are likely to have experienced family violence themselves.

“The Melbourne Children’s Court is piloting an innovative program, the RESTORE program, to help young people and their families to work with a family violence trained convener to address violent behaviours and strengthen parenting strategies.

“We would welcome young people across the state, including in Echuca, having access to these sorts of programs.”