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A-G commends bushfire legal help at Legal Laneway Breakfast

A-G commends bushfire legal help at Legal Laneway Breakfast

By Karin Derkley

Access to Justice 


Attorney-General Jill Hennessy opened the 2020 legal year by commending the legal profession on its support of communities affected by the summer's bushfires.

"I know that so many people in the legal services sector have stepped up and have worked in partnership to support people and communities who have experienced bushfires, and also doing preventative work,” she said at the Victoria Law Foundation's Legal Laneway Breakfast in Hardware Lane on Wednesday.

The challenges raised by the fires were in addition to the ongoing issue of access to justice, she said, and she praised the work of organisations that bring a perspective of the law "that is not just about the legal system in the abstract, but about the humanness about the dignity of your clients about the social and economic contributors to how people live full and dignified lives.

"So many people who don't have access to the legal system come with a range of other challenges around things like access to housing, mental health services, employment opportunities and the ability to live full and dignified lives.”

Also at the Legal Laneway Breakfast, Legal Services Commissioner Fiona McLeay said the response to the bushfire crisis showed the best of the profession "on an individual level, but also the capacity of the sector to gather together to collaborate across legal aid and the private profession and pro bono lawyers and the Bar all working together".

However, in her address Ms McLeay also pre-empted the results of a survey into sexual harassment that showed a less commendable aspect of the profession. The detailed report and results of the survey will be released next month, but she said that "unfortunately some of the results of that survey are not great”.

"We knew that sexual harassment was happening,but what we found when we asked the profession was that almost two thirds of female respondents to the survey had experienced some form of sexual harassment. And around 12 per cent of men had also experienced harassment."

The findings of the survey had "strengthened my spine", she said, "towards responding to this in the same way that the profession has united together to respond to a bushfire crisis".

"We know the experience of harassment often has a profound effect on the lives of lawyers in the profession, on the culture of the profession, and by extension on the experience of consumers of legal services."

"Change needs to happen from the top to the bottom, and from side to side. All parts of the profession will need to come together. So you'll be hearing more from me about that over the coming year."

VLF CEO Lynne Haultain introduced the foundation's new logo and branding, and pointed to new research that will follow on from the first report “Law, What Is It Good For?” on public attitudes to law, lawyers and courts.

The new research will map the data collected across the civil justice system in Victoria to inform services and advocacy, she said.

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