Inside this issue:
25th Anniversary Celebrations
Managing Solicitorâ€™s Report
A Disastrous Start
Client Demographics & Statistics
Students & Volunteers
Law & Justice Awards
About Us Community legal centres recognize the barriers which exist for many people in their interaction with and understanding of the law and our legal system. These barriers are reinforced by the high cost of private legal services, the restrictions on the availability of legal aid, the complexity of the law and legal processes, and the fact that many people are powerless to deal with their legal problems because of social, economic or other disadvantage. The Hunter Community Legal Centre aims to address this unmet need for legal services and to eliminate the structural and systemic barriers to justice which exist for many disadvantaged members of its community. The Hunter Community Legal Centre was established in 1991 as a not-for-profit community legal centre to provide free legal advice, assistance and representation to disadvantaged people in the Newcastle and Hunter region. It covers 11 local government areas with a geographic area of approximately 22,000 square kilometres and a population of approximately 600,000. The Centre provides free telephone and face to face legal advice, assistance and representation in many areas of law, as well as community legal education, law reform and clinical legal education. It also provides a number of outreach face to face legal advice clinics in the Hunter region. Our Vision An empowered community that values equal access to justice and upholds and respects human rights. Our Mission To enhance access to justice and promote human rights in the Hunter region by:
Providing a high quality accessible legal service to disadvantaged and vulnerable people
Delivering legal information and education to service providers, clients and the community
Identifying and engaging in law reform activities to address inequalities in the legal system.
Hunter Community Legal Centre Celebrates 25th Anniversary in 2016
Hunter CLC celebrated 25 years of service to the community with a dinner dance at historic Fort Scratchley. “Funktus”, including musical talent from Legal Aid and DPP, provided live music throughout the night. Dylan Parker, an international paper plane throwing champion was our special guest. Dylan, whose story became the award winning Australian film “Paper Planes”, entertained and inspired us with his talk and a paper plane throwing competition on the night. The event helped raise funds for the Centre and demonstrated the ongoing support for the Hunter Community Legal Centre in the community.
Our People The Board of Management Chairperson
Judy Hitchcock Karen Lau Kathrina Balston
Pro Bono Assistance from Laycock Burke Castaldi Lawyers Moray & Agnew Lawyers Sparke Helmore McCullogh Robertson McCabes Baker Love Lawyers
Briony Manning Kim Richardson Luke Shearston Lynne Jackson Michael Giles Sophie Douglas Judy Stein (resigned June 2016)
Volunteer Solicitors Lynn Flanagan Mark Adams Seamus Burke Elizabeth Radley Kate O'Brien Clair Tait Edward Schalit Felicity Douglas Richard Hardy Students Tim Brook Peter Gow Blanca Riz Ramirez Olivia Nott Libby Eckersley Amelia Kerridge Andrew Passlow Elizabeth Losurdo Erin Nulty Sam Suckling Jessica Gazzard Paulina Kuznetsor Christopher Laidler Owen Mortimer Emily Swain Nicole King Paula Smythe Volunteers
Natalie Williams Sean Duce 5
Chairperson's Report It would be amiss of me not to start this year’s report by acknowledging the HCLC’s celebration of its 25 years of continuous operation. The occasion was marked by a dinner/dance and fund raiser held at the Ford Scratchley function centre on the 25 March this year. Despite the numbers in attendance being low, there was a reasonable turn out. The function was a success mainly due to the efforts of its chief organiser, Julie Vitnell. Those who did attend enjoyed the great surroundings, guest speaker, food, wine and entertainment; and yes, even dancing! Since my last report we have had the opening of the new Court precinct in Hunter Street, and from my perspective, it delivers more than I had anticipated (but probably not more than I wished for). At the new Court House the HCLC continues to provide Legal Representation in all AVO/ADVO matters for those who are unable to afford private representation and from my observations this keeps Kim Richardson, Michael Giles and Lynn Flanagan very busy as Legal Aid has not been available for these types of matters for some time. In addition to the high demand for HCLC services for ADVO/AVO’s, the services offered by our Family Law Solicitors also attract a high number of applicants, who cannot afford private representation or are unable to obtain Legal Aid. This has been the case for many years. Both of the programmes I have mentioned above have a high demand for our services and the numbers are always increasing. One of the reasons for this, and a reason why the Centre now runs funded clinics for traffic matters in suburban Courts such as Toronto Local Court, is the ever tightening threshold for Legal Aid. Over the last few years the criteria that one needs to satisfy before qualifying for Legal Aid has increased, with the result that fewer people appearing before the courts are eligible for subsidised or free legal assistance. Many from this group (those affected by the moving parameters of legal aid) seek the assistance of the HCLC Solicitors. Now that brings me nicely to the never ending story of funding. Logically one would assume that if the HCLC is moving into a lacuna (created by the shrinking provisions and services of Legal Aid) and picking up most of those clients, then there would be additional funding available. Simply, No. Not only is it expected that we take on additional work with no budgetary increase, but again we have been told to prepare for a decrease in funding. The results of such a decrease are not fully known but there is always the possibility that this would result in some of our salaried positions being de-funded and the loss of some of our very talented Solicitors. CLCs, nationally and state wide, have run campaigns on the issue of funding and are united on this front.
HCLC signed a 5 year National Partnership agreement but funding has only been guaranteed for the first year! There seems to be a political agenda attached to the funding in that under the agreement the HCLC can only undertake “front line services”, that is, provide representation for those people who are experiencing some form of disadvantage. That part is fine as we have always represented the disadvantaged, but under the agreement the HCLC is unable to take on any law reform activities. Law Reform had always been a relevant underpinning of CLCs and previous agitation of some laws or other Government decisions have resulted in changes. But not anymore, despite the Productivity Commission Inquiry’s recommendation. “The Australian, State and Territory Governments should provide funding for strategic advocacy and law reform activities that seek to identify and remedy systemic issues and so reduce demand for frontline services.”
Peter Bates Solicitor and Chairperson of the HCLC Board of Management
The Hunter Community Legal Centre acknowledges the financial support from the funding bodies
Managing Solicitor’s Report Once again funding uncertainty overshadowed the 2015 – 16 year. The National Partnership Agreement (NPA) came into effect with a 30% funding cut in July 2017 foreshadowed for the community legal sector. In an effort to reverse the cut the Hunter CLC participated in the national funding campaign “Legal Aid Matters” in the lead up to the Federal election in July 2016, to no avail. The forecast July 2017 30% cut is still in place. In January the new legal year got off to a challenging start when we returned to work to discover our office had flooded in the recent heavy rains. We thought we were safe from the weather on the second floor of a 3 storey building. As a result of the ongoing water entry and damage, the office was closed for some days until the damage could be assessed. I must recognise the resilience of all the staff who continued to put in a great effort and adapt to the limited work space and difficult conditions once we reopened. It took 4 months for the repairs to be complete. In that time everyone made an effort to continue to provide the best service we could despite the limitations of our working environment. Once the major repairs were complete and everyone could move back to their usual work stations we held a smoking ceremony to cleanse our office. Despite these setbacks in March, we went ahead with the planned celebration of 25 years of providing important legal services to the Hunter community, holding a dinner at Fort Scratchley. During 2015/16 we farewelled Ruby Taylor our Law Reform and Care and Protection Solicitor. We also lost, long term outreach solicitor, Judy Stein who has taken up a teaching position at the University of Newcastle. Judy had been at the Hunter CLC since 2009 and both Judy and Ruby will be missed. The Hunter CLC was selected to present at the National CLC Conference in Melbourne. We organised a panel session on the future structure of Community Legal Centres. Michael Giles our Generalist Solicitor also presented a paper on the use of diversionary schemes for clients with poor mental health or intellectual disability in the local courts. Both sessions were well attended and received positive feedback. Hunter CLC participated in Law Week in May by organising a panel discussion about criminal law and self-defence in home invasions. Our Senior Solicitor, Kim Richardson represented Hunter CLC on the panel which also included senior NSW Police. The panel session was held at City Hall and was completely booked out. The feedback from the session was extremely positive with the only negative that there was not enough time for Q & A. As well as these and other events the Hunter CLC continued to provide its specialist family law service and its civil and criminal law service. I would like to thank all the staff, not only for their resilience during the office flood but for their commitment throughout the last year in difficult circumstances. The professionalism of all our staff make the Hunter CLC a great organisation to work for. To our Board who give their time to attend meetings after hours, read Board papers and provide support to the Centre in many other ways a big thank you again for your contribution in 2015/16. I would also like to thank the volunteers and Pro bono solicitors who make the Hunter CLC so much more accessible to our community by providing hours of their time to assist. I look forward to working with you all again in the coming year. Bronwyn Ambrogetti
A Disastrous Start to 2016 After moving into new premises 3 years ago we thought our building worries were over, how wrong we were. Upon return from our Christmas break I found the lift was not working so I climbed the two flights of stairs to find the offices at the front of the building and the back of the building in the kitchen drenched in water. The staff were sent home and the office closed. Thinking the builder had fixed the problem, the electrician had given the all clear, carpet dryers and water extractors were put in place the following day. Unfortunately the problem was not fixed and with even more rain falling I found not only did I have an indoor water feature I had only a quarter of the ceiling left. The carpet dryers were turned off and the carpet was ripped out. Thank goodness the labourers were young and reasonably fit, having to take barrels of wet underlay and carpet down two flights of stair as the lift well was being pumped dry. Once again the builder told me, he thought he had found the problem and fixed it. Carpet dryers and extractors were turned on once again to dry out the floor boards and the ceiling that was hanging down was removed. With everything deemed safe and furniture moved to the back of the office, staff returned to start a limited service. Low and behold the cause of the flooding still had not been rectified and water continued to flow again and the lift was out again. All the staff were getting fit climbing the stairs. By Friday of the 2nd week the builder assured me that the problem was fixed, (so far we are high and dry to a certain extent), the floors and walls began to dry out. Thanks to the cooperation of all the staff we weathered the stressful conditions of working under each othersâ€™ feet, no carpets , the lift breaking down and the damp mouldy smell until most of the repairs were completed in April.
The Productivity Commission of Australia noted that 'legal assistance services can prevent or reduce the escalation of legal problems, which can mean reduced costs to the justice system and lower costs to other taxpayer funded services'.
Hunter CLC has helped over 70,000 local people with free legal assistance since we commenced operations in 1991
We are doing a great job but simply canâ€™t keep up with demand. 10,618 phone calls were made to the advice line. We could not assist 8,153 of the people who called us.
Client Demographics & Statistics
During the past 5 years clients requiring assistance with criminal law and family law issues has increased.
“Opening Doors” for Teens - Informing and empowering students on the issues of domestic violence and sexting. Hunter Community Legal Centre participated again in the interactive theatre production developed by Tantrum Theatre, “Opening Doors.” “Opening Doors” is a theatre-in-education performance developed in partnership with Hunter Community Legal Centre, Tantrum Theatre and Hunter CLSD (Cooperative Legal Service Delivery). The production aims to educate and empower young people on issues relating to domestic violence and sexting. This has been achieved through the building of networks between key legal services and community organisations. The program has been a great success with 91% of participating schools reporting that student knowledge of domestic violence had increased after seeing the show. This strategic approach to prevention and early intervention has provided students with information and access to resources that may help should they find themselves in a similar situation. The project highlights the benefits of building cooperative and strategic networks between key legal services and community organisations. “Opening Doors” success can largely be attributed to the collaborative efforts of Hunter Community Legal Centre, Hunter CLSD, Tantrum Theatre, NSW police and other community services. As issues of domestic violence and sexting become more common in the community, the continued efforts of Hunter Community Legal Centre to facilitate the delivery of legal education has played a valuable role in prevention and early intervention. “Opening Doors” educates young people about the legal issues surrounding domestic violence and sexting and empowers them to take positive steps to resolve these issues if they do arise in young people’s lives.
Student Feedback “The play was very good. I started crying during the play because I had a similar situation”.
“The information was easy to understand and I believe that this information should be shared around and to help raise awareness about domestic violence and sexting. A great play and a creative way to share the information”.
Family Violence The number of matters involving domestic violence that our solicitors have assisted with has increased from 11% in 2011 to 30% in 2016 Teena* was referred to us by Legal Aid who were representing Matt* the other party in this matter. Teena needed an interpreter and had to respond to an urgent application from Matt for their children to live with him. Matt made allegations about Teena and was worried she might take the children out of Australia. Teena told us the parties separated just over two weeks ago after Matt assaulted her. There was an interim ADVO in place and Matt had been charged with assault. The children had been living with Teena since separation and spending regular time with the Matt until he refused to return the children to Teena a few days ago. Teena wanted the children to live with her and had no objection to an order being made to place the children on the Airport Watch List. Because of the language barrier we arranged for an adjournment and helped Teena draft her documents with an interpreter. We appeared for Teena at the Interim Hearing and the Court ordered the children return to the care of Teena that day. Matt was ordered to have time with the children every second weekend.
* Not the clients' real names
Rose We first met Rose* at outreach. She came to us following a violent domestic assault. The perpetrator was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and a final ADVO was made for 2 years for Rose’s protection. The perpetrator moved to Sydney and the charges followed him there. Because of our client’s difficulty travelling to Sydney we contacted the Domestic Violence Assistance service in the court where the matter was listed to organize support for Rose if the matter was finalized there. The defendant made representations to the Police to reduce the charge and the Police tried to get our client to agree to the reduced charges. Our client gave very clear instructions that she did not want to do this. In order to ensure that the court was aware of the effect of the perpetrator’s violence over the years we assisted our client to write a Victim’s Impact Statement and forwarded it to the Sydney court including our client’s instructions about the charge. As a result the charge was not reduced and the matter was transferred back to the local court nearest to our client for hearing. The centre continues to assist Rose with other legal matters arising out of a 30 year marriage with a long history of domestic violence.
A Grandmother A Grandmother was referred to the Centre by the court for assistance with an ADVO. Our client, who has some mobility restrictions, had agreed to babysit her granddaughter for an evening. The child’s mother and father did not return the next day as agreed, to collect the child. The arrangement continued for several days and nights. Without any warning, the child’s mother arrived late one night and demanded to take the child home. A disagreement about the best interests of the child occurred and the mother went to the Police who took out a provisional ADVO against our client. We represented our client in court and drafted and filed her statement. By the time the matter was heard the family had reconciled, the son and daughter in law were having relationship counselling, the grandmother was having grief counselling for a previous traumatic death in the family and the Police agreed to withdraw their application. No final orders were made.
*not the client’s real name
Elder Abuse Elder abuse appears to be on the increase Elder abuse is a broad term that describes acts or omissions (both one-offs and repeated occurrences) occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person. Elder abuse takes many forms, including physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse, as well as neglect. 16
Students & Volunteers A huge thank you must go to our volunteers and students. Without their commitment to social justice we could not provide as much assistance to our clients.
Reflections On quite a few occasions we encountered unrepresented litigants. I realise that some of the causes for this is reduction in legal aid funding, the strains placed on CLCs and high costs associated with legal representation. There were greater numbers than what I would have anticipated and it really hits home that there are 'access to justice' issues and many people are being placed at a disadvantage as they are unable to meet the costs for legal representation. However, it did strike me how much of an additional strain this placed on court proceedings. Without having a knowledgeable practitioner guiding the course of proceedings, the process did not flow as well.
Flowers from an appreciative client
Proceedings had to continuously come to a halt so a judge could direct the unrepresented litigant in relation to court processes and procedures. At times it appeared as though the judges were walking a tight rope - as they had to direct the party but do so without providing them with legal advice. Law student
The service certainly exceeded my expectations. Jen
Thank you for the hard work you put into to my case. Your professionalism and dedication sets you apart from other solicitors and even barristers that I have dealt with. Ernie
Thank you for all your assistance with my case. I am pleased with the outcome and to finally have closure. I am very grateful for all the contribution from "Hunter Community Legal" and much appreciation for all you did for me. Debra
We would like to express our sincere gratitude to all involved in our successful appeal. We make special mention of Elizabeth who was thorough, showed compassion and treated us with consideration and respect through what was a very difficult time. Glynda
Tim Brook, Graduate on Placement Student The opportunity for a student to work in a CLC is a privilege. We are given a high degree of responsibility and are expected to manage case loads of varying degrees of complexity. This supervised case management is similar to either a triage nurse or an intern in a hospital setting and often both. The most immediate level of skills gained are related to knowledge of the various agencies involved in providing legal and community services. This is particularly useful for someone such as myself who has come from outside NSW. The other obvious advantage that students gain is the broad range of legal issues we are exposed to. I am discovering that this helps me identify personal areas of strength and areas of weakness (of which there are plenty). So far I have dealt with criminal, civil, consumer, environmental and professional responsibility matters. Using skills learnt through study in actual real life practice is rewarding and often surprising. Writing client statements, lodging court documents, writing statements of claim, letters of demand etc are all skills best learnt through actual practice. I soon realised that these ‘rudimentary’ skills are not so rudimentary. While we students ‘gain’ some experience and some formal step towards qualification we gain most from the opportunity to provide some assistance, even if small to those in need. For the Centre, taking on a student is a service in itself. The centre provides training, time, mentoring, education and bears the on costs associated with all of this. An under recognised service. Client The client often comes in contact with the Centre at a bad time for them. We don’t see them at their best but nearer their worst. I try to remember this. Most people do not want to be involved in a legal dispute. Often people come to us at a time of despair and in some cases hopelessness. Many feel vulnerable and powerless. For many of these people legal aid or a private solicitor are simply not options. Public policy 78% of lawyers in NSW work in Sydney. This means the remaining 22% provided legal services for the 43% of the NSW population that lives outside of Sydney. This is 3.5 million people. Many people in regional areas simply have no access to legal services. The idea that the ‘market’ will respond to this gap is a myth. The choice is usually between no legal services at all or a community legal centre like the Hunter CLC. For vulnerable clients with low incomes, disabilities and mental health issues the prospect of no legal advice often simply confounds already existing issues and presents a major disadvantage. Any existing stress; health, financial and relationship is multiplied in a legal dispute. An absence of legal assistance reduces the chance of those wishing to get their lives back on track. It is simply unfair. It entrenches an underclass. A CLC like Hunter provides a huge public benefit at very low cost. Negatives I have been asked to mention some negatives. The obvious one is that Solicitors are over-worked. Clients from regional areas or those that are immobile are especially disadvantaged by a lack of resources, time or ability to meet face to face. I am certainly grateful for the opportunity provided by Hunter CLC and the staff here and the work they do in general.
Peter Gow - My experiences at Hunter Community Legal Centre At the time I had commenced with the Hunter Community Legal Centre (HCLC), I had recently graduated, having completed the Juris Doctor, full time through UNSW. I was looking to complete my practical legal training (PLT) days in an environment that provided consistent access to work that would stretch me in applying my knowledge, in an environment that involved supervision by capable lawyers from whom I could develop. The HCLC experience has exceeded my expectations. My PLT requirement through the College of Law could be met in two ways: an accelerated path of 25 days (with additional theory); or, a 75 day path. I had initially intended to pursue the accelerated path. But by the end of the first week at the HCLC, it was clear that I was learning so much whilst there that the 75 day path was the preferred course. The HCLC work experience has exposed me to many aspects of practise that I was not even aware I needed to know, but didn't. Unfortunately this included some aspects that, in hindsight, I would have expected the substantive curriculum in law school to cover, such as the existence and operation of NCAT. Other matters that I have been exposed to, and gained value from, include: the art of advocacy; court processes, including judgment delivery in a Local Court setting; dealing with parties at court, including prosecutors; research; client interview and statement preparation. These are the grist of a day in the life of an HCLC PLT volunteer. The supervision of highly experienced lawyers in a practise environment has been invaluable - highly satisfying, engaging, developmental, and thoroughly immersive. In short, just the sort of experience I would recommend for any new graduate, or penultimate year student. The opportunity to observe in practise, and be supervised by, several capable lawyers has provided a vantage point to discern differences in style. I believe that, in the future, I will be able to incorporate these observations into my own practise. The HCLC work experience has also reinforced my understanding of the need for public services of this type in seeking to meet the expectations of substantive, as opposed to merely formal, equality of access to justice. This experience has reinforced my personal expectation of performing pro bono services once admitted.
Smoking Ceremony During May the Centre held a smoking ceremony to cleanse the building after it was flooded causing considerable damage in January.
Our volunteers attended various community events including West Lakes NAIDOC family fun day
Law and Justice Awards McCullough Robertson Lawyers and Hunter Community Legal Centre were nominated for the Law and Justice Foundation Pro Bono Partnership Award. The Hunter Community Legal Centre and McCullough Robertson work together to provide free employment law. The demand for our employment law service is very high. Since the start of our partnership with McCullough Robertson we have assisted over 150 people. 90% of them were on low or no income and a quarter have a disability. This group is very vulnerable to unfair treatment at work.
Kim Richardson & Suzie Leask at the Law & Justice Awards
Lynn Flanagan a volunteer solicitor at the Centre since 2014 was nominated for the Community Legal Centres NSW Awards. Lynn attends Newcastle Local Court with PLT students as part of Hunter CLCâ€™s AVO Duty Service and this involves; identifying clients at court that may need assistance, carrying out conflict checks, taking the client's instructions, completing the advice sheet, prioritising clientâ€™s matters at court and making appearances where necessary. She plays a vital role in promoting access to justice amongst vulnerable and disadvantaged persons. Lynn Flanagan
Hunter Community Legal Centre Inc. Level 2/116 Hunter St Newcastle 2300 PO Box 84 Newcastle 2300 Phone: 40409121 @hunterclc
Hunter Community Legal Centre Annual Report 2016