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Unsolicited (Letters from the editor)

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Cite as: (2007) 81(6) LIJ, p. 8

Solicitors always take holistic approach

I read with interest Kathy Douglas’ article (May 2007 LIJ, page 30) on therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) with the Neighbourhood Justice Centre pilot scheme in Collingwood.

I don’t want to comment on the pilot scheme and my concerns as to rules and practices that apply in one area of the Magistrates’ Court and not others.

What does concern me in the article is the implied suggestion that somehow practitioners in the Magistrates’ Court have something to learn from TJ because their present approach to a client’s case is somehow lacking.

I have no doubt that we learn as we go along, but my experience over a number of years in Magistrates’ Courts is that practitioners do consider the whole of their client’s situation and pitch their case accordingly.

Sentencing after all is based in part on the content of the plea material and magistrates need to know the complete picture to reach the appropriate decision.

It is insulting to say that this multi-jurisdictional pilot Court “may present a challenge to some criminal lawyers as it may require them to understand a wide range of legal issues (such as, for example, guardianship) when representing a client” and then to conclude by saying that this new centre “provides the opportunity for criminal lawyers to practise in a court that highly values the philosophy of TJ. Lawyers need to reflect on their practice and adopt approaches that assist clients in the best possible outcomes in this new court. They may also consider incorporating these approaches more generally in their criminal practice”.

I suggest that the writer might spend a little time in Magistrates’ Courts and see how solicitor advocates and local solicitors prepare for the clients’ day in court.

In my experience, these solicitors look at the resolution of the clients’ personal issues when it comes to plea submissions. It stands to reason that the clients’ interests deserve such an approach.

A therapeutic approach to problem-solving has been going on for years in Magistrates’ Courts throughout the state.

Magistrates with the ever-increasing burden of work and the pressure to “get through the list” will continue to dispense justice looking at the interests of the parties (and that includes victims when appropriate) with the admirable assistance of the hard-working solicitors of this state.

That is a comforting thought because it applies all over the state and not just in Collingwood.

Bryan Clothier
Barrister and Solicitor

For providing the letter of the month, Bryan Clothier has won a $50 book voucher from the LIV bookshop, redeemable for the next 12 months.

Relationship registration scheme welcomed

The Victorian government has recently announced it will establish a relationship registration scheme in Victoria.

Couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life together will be able to officially register their relationship. Like similar schemes in foreign jurisdictions, the register will be open to all couples, without discrimination. The scheme will require new legislation, similar to Tasmania’s Relationships Act 2003.

As the government’s announcement acknowledged, a relationship registration scheme is supported by many in the community, including the Law Institute of Victoria, the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Municipal Association of Victoria.

Widespread support for the scheme is based on the realisation that many couples, in particular same-sex couples, are discriminated against by not having a simple way of proving their relationship. In 2001, the Victorian Parliament enacted the Statute Law Amendment (Relationships) Act and the Statute Law Further Amendment (Relationships) Act.

These provided same-sex couples with the same rights as mixed-sex couples under a wide range of Victorian laws, including in areas such as inheritance, recognition as “next of kin”, disclosure of partner’s health information, accident and workers’ compensation and anti-discrimination laws.

A relationship register will build on these laws and improve couples’ access to justice by providing couples with conclusive evidence of their relationships.

Registration may assist couples in many ways. For example, a couple may have to provide evidence of their relationship for purposes such as property and estate settlement, life insurance and superannuation.

While mixed-sex couples can marry and thereby gain evidence of their relationship, same-sex couples cannot. Registration may also be useful for couples in their dealings with government administrative bodies, or even their employers.

Legal practitioners need to be aware of the proposed scheme. It will have significant legal implications for people seeking advice about their relationships, particularly in relation to relationship breakdowns.

The Tasmanian scheme allows couples to enter into personal relationship agreements and separation agreements. Further, a court in Tasmania cannot make a finding inconsistent with such an agreement provided certain conditions are met.

Similar provisions may be included in the Victorian scheme, as well as the conferral of jurisdiction on an accessible court or tribunal.

Currently, same-sex couples must go to the Supreme Court should they have a property dispute on the breakdown of their relationship.

Perhaps the most important feature of the government’s announcement is not legal, however, but social or cultural. Same-sex relationships are as loving and committed as mixed-sex relationships.

Registration is a positive step towards affirming all relationships which strengthen and benefit the community.

This announcement recognises the importance of equality before the law and the value of diversity.

Gerard Brody
Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby

Gippsland deserves better

I am extremely disappointed by the state government’s continued refusal to provide support for the Gippsland Community Legal Service.

This service is the only one of its kind in the state that does not attract state government support.

Services in Warrnambool, Mildura, Bendigo, Albury-Wodonga, Ballarat and Geelong all perform a similar role to the Gippsland Community Legal Service and all receive state government funds.

However, despite a number of pleas by me and others, the state refuses to provide such support to Gippsland.

The Gippsland Community Legal Service is based in Morwell but provides services to all areas of Gippsland, including the municipalities of East Gippsland, Wellington, Latrobe City, Baw Baw, South Gippsland and the Bass Coast.

It provides regular visiting services to Leongatha, Sale, Wonthaggi, Bairnsdale, Cowes and Warragul.

At the moment it is totally funded by the federal government and is staffed by two solicitors, a community development worker and an administrative coordinator.

If the state government supported the Gippsland service as it does other services around Victoria, its role could possibly expand further.

In the interests of fairness, I am calling on the state government to give the same support to the Gippsland Community Legal Service as it does to similar services around Victoria.

Why is Gippsland missing out?

Peter Hall
MLC for Eastern Victoria


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