Legal centre funding plea

October 06, 2017

Belinda Wilson (left) takes a tour of the Shepparton Law Courts construction site with Magistrate Stella Stuthridge, Grant Chipperfield and Law Institute chief executive Nerida Wallace

One of the leading lawyers in the state has issued a call for more community legal centre funding to help the disadvantaged.

Law Institute of Victoria president Belinda Wilson was in Shepparton this week to meet with the legal fraternity as part of a regional listening tour.

Ms Wilson said community legal centres were a key area of concern as they provided a vital link to the legal system for many in the community.

‘‘The community legal services are often the last port of call for many people,’’ she said.

She took time to meet with the team at the Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre, a not-for-profit service that gives legal advice and representation to low-income and disadvantaged people.

It was one of the hundreds of community legal centres that faced losing a huge chunk of its Federal Government.

About a third of its budget, or $320000, was set to be stripped before a last-minute funding reprieve from Attorney-General George Brandis.

‘‘If the Federal Government didn’t come through with the funding, that could equate to two full-time jobs,’’ she said.

‘‘That would be two lawyers in an already stretched market that can’t be at court that can’t provide those outreach services.’’

Although a lot of her work as president is based in Melbourne, Ms Wilson is no stranger to country Victoria.

She grew up in the small town of Coongulla in Gippsland and practised at a regional law firm for nearly 14 years.

She took over the presidency of the law institute this year and has been involved in advocacy and discussions with the state government on a range of issues.

With the state opposition promising tougher sentencing if elected, she said the law institute was there to provide a measured voice to ‘‘knee jerk reactions’’.

‘‘We’ve seen Victoria spend a lot of money on the policing end and the prison end,’’ she said.

‘‘But we need to spend on the preventative side.’’

She said family violence and drug and alcohol problems were key issues that needed to be tackled by more than just a tough-on-crime attitude.

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