In September we were pleased to learn that former Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark had endorsed a Legal Services Board recommendation to fund a Therapeutic Justice partnership between ourselves and Primary Care Connect. This three-year pilot project, worth just over $500,000, will provide for a full-time lawyer and a full-time case worker.
The partnership will harness the passion, expertise and skills of health and legal services to facilitate targeted and effective responses to clients with complex care needs. It will deliver positive legal, health and wellbeing outcomes for clients. In addition, it will build interdisciplinary knowledge and respect, and focus agency resources in order to deliver more therapeutic outcomes for identified clients at the Shepparton Magistrates’ Court.
The case worker will assess potential clients attending court and will arrange appointments for them with relevant therapeutic services. They will also notify the court of steps taken by the client and will interpret reports for the court at subsequent sentencing hearings.
The lawyer will work closely with the case worker as well as conducting professional development sessions for health and legal service providers and providing community legal education for the wider community.
Our submission to the Legal Services Board for funding to introduce a pilot Therapeutic Justice practice at the Shepparton Magistrates’ Court followed discussions with Magistrate Stella Stuthridge and Community Conversations. These discussions recognised that Shepparton is an area with proven high needs.
In particular, Shepparton is recognised as having the largest proportion of its population reliant upon government benefits in Victoria. It was the only Victorian town singled out for inclusion in the Federal Government’s Income Management scheme. It has high unemployment levels and a depressed local economy. It also has a large multi-cultural community with many recent arrivals and the largest Aboriginal population in Victoria outside Melbourne.
The pilot is a first for regional Victoria. Although various Therapeutic Justice services are available to metropolitan courts, until now no such facilities have been extended to regional or remote Victorians.
We thank the former Attorney-General and the Legal Services Board* for supporting this initiative. We also thank our many supporters in the judiciary, the legal profession, and health and other support services for their encouragement and participation. Special thanks to our partners in this first Advocacy-Health Alliance in the Goulburn Valley, Primary Care Connect, for providing the therapeutic expertise so many of our damaged and vulnerable clients need.
*The Legal Services Board manages a fund derived from interest paid on solicitors’ trust accounts. Money from the fund is allocated to selected law reform and justice programs.