Law Aid was established with the assistance of the Law Institute of Victoria and the Victorian Bar Council and was initially funded by the Victorian Government; it is now an independent, self-funding scheme.
Law Aid’s purpose is to assist people who are unable to afford the cost of civil litigation. It provides funding for out-of-pocket expenses (e.g. medical reports, travelling expenses, filing fees and witness expenses). It cannot pay solicitors’ or barristers’ fees.
Among other matters, Law Aid can assist in personal injuries claims, claims against institutions involving oppressive behaviour, property claims, wills and estates matters, and professional negligence claims. Law Aid cannot assist with criminal matters or family law matters.
People interested should contact their nearest community legal centre (see Chapter 2.4: Legal services that can help) or their own solicitor to get help to complete a Law Aid application form. Applicants pay a non-refundable application fee of $100.
Eligibility for funding is assessed case-by-case on the basis of the applicant’s financial means and the legal merits of their case. Granting of assistance is at the Law Aid trustees’ discretion, and the trustees do not give reasons for their decisions.
If there is a successful outcome in a matter funded by Law Aid, the applicant must repay Law Aid in full, and pay a fee representing a percentage of the award or settlement (while the trustees are entitled to charge 10 per cent, the fee sought in the majority of cases is five per cent). If a matter is unsuccessful, no repayment is required. Also, lawyers working on a matter funded by Law Aid must waive all costs if the matter is unsuccessful (i.e. ‘no win, no fee’).
More information is available at www.liv.asn.au.
Justice Connect (formerly called the Public Interest Law Clearing House or PILCH) is a not-for-profit incorporated association, which is committed to furthering the public interest, improving access to justice and protecting human rights by facilitating the provision of pro bono legal services and undertaking law reform, policy work and legal education.
Justice Connect’s members include law firms, university law faculties, community legal centres, corporate legal departments, the Victorian Bar and the Law Institute of Victoria.
Level 17, 461 Bourke Street, Melbourne Vic 3000
Tel: 8636 4400
Justice Connect delivers pro bono legal services through the following programs:
- Not-for-profit Law (for not-for-profit organisations);
- Referral Service (for individuals);
- Self-representation Service (for individuals);
- Homeless Law (for individuals);
- Seniors Law (for individuals).
Not-for-profit Law provides free or low-cost legal information, advice and training to not-for-profit organisations. For eligible organisations, the service also provides free telephone advice (tel: 1800 637 529) and help finding pro bono lawyers.
Not-for-profit Law hosts a comprehensive information hub (at www.nfplaw.org.au) designed to assist not-for-profits to understand common legal issues affecting their organisations. The information hub provides legal resources, including plain English fact sheets and checklists.
In addition, Not-for-profit Law runs seminars and workshops on issues such as governance, legal issues for volunteers, tax and fundraising. The service also engages in policy and law reform work for the not-for-profit sector.
Justice Connect’s Referral Service connects those who need legal help to pro bono lawyers. This service is available to individuals experiencing disadvantage. The Referral Service aims to fill the unmet legal need in society that is created when legal aid and community legal centres are unable to assist. Due to Justice Connect’s longstanding relationships with barristers, law firms, government and the community legal sector, it is able to quickly and effectively match those seeking help with expert pro bono legal support best suited to the person’s needs.
The Self-representation Service helps individuals who are unrepresented (i.e. they don’t have a lawyer and are representing themselves in court) in bankruptcy, Fair Work, human rights, discrimination and judicial review matters in the Federal Court or Federal Circuit Court. This service provides free legal information, advice and assistance. Telephone the Self-representation Service on 1800 727 550.
Homeless Law is a free, specialist outreach legal service for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The service provides free information, legal advice and legal representation at court and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Legal assistance is provided by pro bono lawyers at outreach clinics in Footscray (Melbourne City Mission), Collingwood (Launch Housing), Melbourne’s CBD (VACRO and cohealth) and Geelong (SalvoConnect). To make an appointment (the outreach clinics are appointment-only), phone 1800 606 313 (free call from landlines).
Homeless Law also engages in law reform to bring about changes to laws and policies that impact disproportionately on marginalised and disadvantaged people.
Seniors Law is a free legal service for older Victorians who cannot afford to pay a lawyer. The service helps those who are experiencing elder abuse and who have other legal issues associated with ageing. Seniors Law provides a range of services, including legal referrals, legal advice, advocacy, and community education.
Magistrates’ Court registrars
Registrars of the Magistrates’ Court do not offer legal advice. The advice given to the public by registrars is confined to the scope of their duties and knowledge. Registrars are strictly impartial in the giving of advice, which is based only on the facts. They do not do or say anything from which it may appear that they are acting as the legal representative of any particular person.
If advice is given in a matter that may lead to litigation, a registrar must inform the person being advised that the advice offered is based only on the facts supplied by that person, and that any decision made by the court will be based on facts given by all parties.
Anyone to whom advice is given should also be informed of matters that do not support their case, and of the possibility of costs being awarded against them should their action fail.
Registrars provide procedural advice on a range of legal matters including:
- Civil disputes: These are disputes arising from claims for debts, damage to property and or injury (e.g. from a car crash) and other monetary demands. The civil jurisdiction also deals with neighbourhood disputes (e.g. disputes about fences). The Magistrates’ Court can determine most disputes over money or property up to the value of $100 000, including damages for personal injury.
- Intervention orders: These are orders made by a magistrate under the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic) or the Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act 2010 (Vic) (for more information about intervention orders, see Chapter 4.4: Family violence).
- Criminal matters: The Magistrates’ Court deals with all summary (i.e. less serious) offences and some indictable (i.e. very serious) offences. Registrars provide a range of information and procedural advice about the criminal jurisdiction. For example, advice relating to:
- adjournments (putting off the case to another day);
- types of cases and hearings;
- applications for a payment plan or a stay relating to fines;
- applications to convert fines to community work;
- applications to restore drivers licences;
- diversion hearings.
Further assistance provided by registrars
A registrar may provide limited assistance, if time permits, with the following issues:
- Under section 71(1)(b) of the Administration and Probate Act 1958 (Vic), registrars of the Magistrates’ Court may assist people to obtain a grant of probate or letters of administration. This only applies to small estates (see definition of ‘small estates’ in ‘Small estates and the Probate Office’, below). Applicants should ask the registrar of the Magistrates’ Court nearest to their home. To be eligible for this assistance, the applicant must meet criteria relating to their relationship with the deceased and monetary threshold limits (these criteria are outlined in ‘Small estates and the Probate Office’, below).
- Magistrates’ Court registrars at many country locations are authorised marriage celebrants under the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) (and are therefore qualified to perform marriage ceremonies).
Assistance not provided by registrars
Registrars do not release monies or make payments from the ‘court fund’ to individuals under any circumstances. Court fund monies are paid to local social welfare and not-for-profit community organisations. People in urgent need of money (e.g. for food, travel, medicine) are referred to these agencies for assistance.
Most trade unions have an arrangement with a solicitor to provide legal advice to members of the union. Often, these solicitors provide an initial interview free of charge to give advice and decide whether or not the member has a case on which further action should be taken. In some instances, the union will pay for legal action. This is particularly so in WorkSafe claims, or where damages are being sought for injuries that were suffered at work. A union’s help may also be sought in matters of dismissal, non-payment or under-payment of wages, and other employment-connected problems.
Contact your union, or the Victorian Trades Hall Council (tel: 9659 3511; www.weareunion.org.au).
Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV)
Members of the RACV can obtain free motoring-related legal advice via the motoring advice line (tel: 9790 2190). This phone line provides advice on matters such as motor vehicle accidents, insurance claims, driving offences, buying cars, and disputes arising from repairing or servicing cars. The advice is provided by non-lawyers who have a detailed, practical knowledge in these areas. Assistance with taking or defending legal action is not provided.
RMIT, Melbourne and La Trobe Universities provide legal services for students of their universities. These services are provided by paid solicitors who are employed by the university. These solicitors write letters, conduct negotiations and arrange representation in court if necessary.
Students of Monash University who need legal advice are referred to the Monash Oakleigh Legal Service, which is a community legal centre staffed by Monash University law students.
For contact details, see ‘Legal services for university students’ in Chapter 2.4: Legal services that can help.
State Trustees provides a range of trustee, executor and administrator services, including:
- will preparation;
- enduring powers of guardianship and attorney (financial and medical treatment);
- trusts administration;
- deceased estates management;
- management services for people with disabilities;
- genealogical research and beneficiary tracking;
- investment and taxation services;
- funeral funds and funds management.
There is a charge for these services; you should ask about this when you make an appointment. State Trustees have offices throughout Victoria.
1 McNab Avenue, Footscray Vic 3011
Tel: 1300 138 672
The State Trustees also has offices in Dandenong and Bendigo; see the website for address and contact details.
Small estates and the Probate Office
In defined circumstances, assistance may be provided to people who wish to obtain a grant of representation (probate or administration) in small estate matters. Eligibility for assistance is determined by the proposed applicant’s relationship to the deceased and monetary threshold limits.
A small estate is defined as an estate where the gross value of solely owned assets does not exceed:
- $50 000 where the people entitled to share in the estate are the children, or the partner, or the partner and children, or the sole surviving parent;
- $25 000 where people outside the above categories are entitled to share in the estate.
If the above criteria apply, the person entitled to probate of a will or to the letters of administration of the estate may apply to:
Victorian Probate Office
Level 2, 436 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne Vic 3000
Tel: 8600 2000
Assistance in obtaining a grant of probate or letters of administration is provided to people who live within a 32 kilometre radius of Melbourne (contact the Probate Office for advice on fees for this service). Outside that area, contact the registrar of the local Magistrates’ Court.
In eligible cases, a small estates officer can be instructed by the applicant, and prepare and lodge an application on their behalf. The assistance provided by the court reduces the need for people to hire a solicitor and acts as a legal aid service to the public.
The small estates officer or Magistrates’ Court registrar only deal with applications for basic grants of representation and do not render assistance in contentious or doubtful applications. In all cases, proof to establish both an applicant’s identity and their relationship to the deceased is required.
For advice on tenants’ rights, rental disputes, eviction, investigation of complaints, and assistance with taking and defending legal action, contact Tenants Victoria on 1800 068 860 or visit www.tenantsvic.org.au.
Financial counsellors can provide advice about debts, budgeting and debt recovery procedures. They can also provide paralegal advice on credit, debt and bankruptcy. For a list of financial counsellors, see Chapter 5.4: Financial counselling services.
People undertaking their own legal work may find a legal kit helpful. State Trustees sells a power of attorney kit.
There are many websites that provide helpful information, including:
- AustLii: AustLii is one of the largest sources of online legal materials.
- County Court of Victoria
- Family Court of Australia
- Law Institute of Victoria: provides information for lawyers and the public
- Magistrates’ Court of Victoria
- Supreme Court of Victoria
- Victoria Law Foundation
- Victoria Legal Aid: provides legal aid guidelines, services and legal information.