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Head Note March 2012

Legal Aid lawyer appointed as magistrate

Legal Aid Queensland congratulates former staff member Deborah Vasta, who was sworn in as magistrate in December 2011.

Deborah joined Legal Aid Queensland in 2004 as a lawyer with our Criminal Law Services division. In this role Deborah represented defendants charged with serious criminal offences as well as practicing extensively in the magistrates court. 

Deborah has significant experience as a criminal lawyer having held positions at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, in private practice and at Legal Aid Queensland since her admission in 1990.

More recently, Deborah represented clients in the special circumstances court in Brisbane and devoted much time and effort to that court while continuing to commit herself to duty lawyer and other criminal law case work. 

Deborah has begun her magistracy career in Southport. Legal Aid Queensland wishes Deborah all the best in this next phase in her career.



Legal Aid takes on people smuggling cases

The demand for legal representation in people smuggling matters has grown considerably in the past 12 months.

Legal Aid Queensland has funded more than 100 people smuggling matters to date, with clients being represented both by Legal Aid’s in-house criminal law practice as well as preferred supplier law firms.

As an example, Legal Aid represented an alleged people smuggler who identified as being 14 years of age but was being detained in an adult prison. Legal Aid worked with the Indonesian Consulate-General to prove the age of the client. The Consulate-General contacted the client’s family in Indonesia and managed to obtain a copy of the client’s baptism certificate. On the basis of this baptism certificate, the charges against the client were withdrawn and they were able to return home to Indonesia.

In another case, a client and two co-accused went to trial in the district court on people smuggling charges. In court, an expert on Indonesian life gave evidence that the average Indonesian fisherman has no concept of what Australia is, nor its location. Legal Aid argued that the client, an Indonesian fisherman, did not have the requisite knowledge to understand that he was involved in people smuggling to Australia. In many instances people smuggling operatives hire poor local fishermen and youths as boat crew and give them no information about the true nature of their journey. The jury found the client not guilty of people smuggling.

Legal Aid has made a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission of Inquiry into the treatment of individuals suspected of people smuggling offences who say that they are children. One of the key points raised in the submission is that the use of wrist x-rays as the sole means of proving a person’s age is unreliable, and further investigation should be undertaken to prove a person’s age where x-ray results are inconclusive.

Legal Aid has also contributed to a National Legal Aid submission to the Commonwealth Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs – Crimes Amendment (Fairness for Minors) Bill 2011, regarding age determination and the prosecution of people accused of people smuggling offences.



Young people, Indigenous and regional Queenslanders to benefit from community legal education initiatives

Legal Aid Queensland is delighted to announce the inaugural recipients of the Legal Aid Queensland Collaboration Fund, to support community legal education initiatives.

“Educating the community about their legal rights and responsibilities is an important part of Legal Aid’s role,” Legal Aid Queensland CEO Anthony Reilly said.

“Our Collaboration Fund enables Legal Aid Queensland to resource collaborative initiatives and partnerships with other organisations to extend the reach of our community legal education work.

“Indigenous Queenslanders, tenants, carers for people with disabilities or the elderly, young people and regional Queenslanders are among the community members who will benefit from community legal education initiatives supported through the fund.”

The recipients sharing in $88,332 in funding are:

South West Brisbane Community Legal Centre: to deliver community legal education workshops on child protection to community workers.

Youth Advocacy Centre Inc: to facilitate ‘Laying Down The Law’ workshops in regional areas to educate youth workers about legal issues potentially impacting on their clients.

Welfare Rights Centre QLD: for the ‘Don’t Give Up – Speak Up’ Legal Education Project to provide legal education and advice on social security and tenancy law in Cherbourg through a collaboration with the Tenants’ Union of Queensland (TUQ), the Barambah Local Justice Group, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation and local radio.

Refugee and Immigration Legal Service: to deliver community legal education sessions about Australian law to vulnerable people from refugee backgrounds.

Tenants’ Union of Queensland: to develop a new DVD consumer guide for tenants attending the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal for tenancy dispute resolution.

Queensland Aged and Disability Advocacy (QADA): to deliver training modules via regional workshops to educate QADA regional advocates, community members and service providers about guardianship law and procedures.

Regional Legal Assistance Forum (RLAF) networks in Bundaberg, south west Queensland and far north regions: to resource community legal education activities in these regions in partnership with other local legal service agencies.

The Collaboration Fund is an initiative of Legal Aid Queensland’s Community Legal Education Strategy, which is available on the Legal Aid Queensland website.

2012 Law Week Hypothetical targets domestic violence

Last year 33 percent of women were subject to some form of domestic violence. Domestic violence can include physical and sexual abuse, controlling or coercive behaviour, harassment, intimidation, social isolation and financial depravation.

The Law Week Hypothetical is an annual community legal education event coordinated by Legal Aid Queensland and held during National Law Week. This year the 2012 Hypothetical will focus on domestic violence; highlighting the stats, myths and facts about this often silent epidemic in our communities. Audience members and an expert panel will work through a fictional scenario exploring the challenges, legal process and support services available to victims of domestic violence.

Audience members will be given the opportunity to ask questions, make comments and learn about how our legal system responds to victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.

The 2012 Hypothetical promises to be another interesting and informative event attracting attendees from the legal, government and social services sectors, as well school students and members of the public.

Event details:
Date: Tuesday, 15 May 2012 Time: 12:30 – 2:00pm
Location: Banco Court, Level 2, Law Courts Complex, 304 George Street, Brisbane
Cost: Free, but bookings are essential (seating is limited)
Audience: open to the public
RSVP: email and provide attendee name(s) and a contact phone number.

Flood and Cyclone Legal Help update: 12 months on

More than 12 months have now passed since widespread flooding and cyclones devastated much of Queensland in 2011. As Queensland rebuilds, Legal Aid continues to assist hundreds of Queenslanders whose flood insurance claims have been rejected or only partially paid out by their insurers. The onset of recent flooding to regional Queensland will see increased demand for flood legal help assistance in the coming months.

As part of the process of seeking to overturn insurance claim refusals, Legal Aid lawyers take detailed statements from clients and access hydrology reports, client insurance polices and damage reports. Lawyers then prepare a submission to the client's insurer marshalling the facts and flagging legal arguments, seeking a review of refused claims.

More than 75 percent of finalised matters successfully received a decision reversal and Legal Aid Queensland is persisting with many more claims, with almost 300 currently lodged with the Financial Ombudsman Service. Legal Aid continues to take on clients who need help with insurance claims and it is hoped that all existing claims can be resolved for clients in the next 12 months.

Legal Aid Queensland also acted for the families of three people who lost their lives during the flooding in Toowoomba and Grantham, representing them at the coronial inquest into the lives lost during the flood.

The onset of the summer wet season saw Legal Aid Queensland, reminding all insurance policy holders to check what they are covered for. As a result of the 2010-11 natural disasters, many people found that they were not covered for flood damage or were only covered up to certain amount.

If people aren't sure if they are protected, they should call their insurer and take notes of the call. Note the date, time, who you spoke to, what you asked and what you said.

Legal Aid and Queensland Law Society working together

Legal Aid enjoys a strong, supportive working relationship with Queensland Law Society (QLS), with both organisations committed to improving access to justice for vulnerable and financially disadvantaged Queenslanders, as well as enhancing professional development opportunities within the legal sector.

Legal Aid Queensland’s Board were delighted to welcome Mr Bruce Doyle, the then President of the QLS, to our board meeting on 27 October 2011. Legal Aid Queensland’s Board Chair Rachel Hunter and board member Terry Browne also attended the QLS Access to Justice committee meeting.

Legal Aid and QLS collaborate on a number of initiatives including training and professional development, a joint seminar with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service focused on communication skills and cultural considerations when representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients, the involvement of Legal Aid lawyers in QLS professional committees, and service delivery partnerships such as the Queensland Flood and Cyclone Legal Help response. Legal Aid Queensland’s Board strongly supports collaborative initiatives like these continuing into the future.

A number of Legal Aid lawyers and a Legal Aid board member are members of QLS committees and boards, including:

• Catherine Moynihan, Chair of the Children’s Law committee
• Peter Delibaltas, member of the Criminal Law committee
• Nicky Davies, member of the Children’s Law committee
• Mary Burgess, member of the Access to Justice/Pro Bono committee
• Iyla Davies, member of the Specialist Accreditation Board.

Legal Aid and QLS are also represented at Queensland Legal Assistance Forum meetings, along with sector partners the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (ATSILS), the Bar Association of Queensland, the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General, the Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services (QAILS) and the Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service.

New legal education resource assists new arrivals in Australia

Teaching new arrivals in Australia about Australian laws and how to access legal help is the focus of a new educational resource.

Legal Aid Queensland has partnered with legal aid commissions across Australia to create What’s the Law? Australian law for new arrivals, a free legal education resource for new arrivals.  

“Refugees and newly arrived migrants in Australia face a number of barriers to accessing legal services such as language, cross-cultural differences and perceptions of police and legal systems, that can hinder their ability to recognise a legal issue and seek help,” Legal Aid Queensland’s Community Legal Education Coordinator Linda Richards said.

“To help address these barriers our What’s the law? educational resource provides new arrivals with a basic understanding of Australian law, and empowers people from refugee backgrounds to recognise a legal issue and access help if they need it.”

The package includes a DVD of 10 short stories highlighting some of the issues that new arrivals may experience in their first 18 months of settlement.

The short stories use simple English and focus on legal topics including the legal system, driving, child protection, car accidents, tenancy, family law, contracts and police.

The resource will be used as part of the Adult Migrant Education Program (AMEP) where students are taught English in a classroom setting and also in other community legal education settings.

The package also includes student worksheets and a teacher guide with advice on how to deal with legal questions and how to refer new arrivals to services that can help them.

The What’s the law? short stories, student worksheets and teacher guide can all be downloaded from the Legal Aid Queensland website. The short stories can also be viewed on Legal Aid’s YouTube channel.

“Many legal problems are preventable; with this legal education package, new arrivals will gain the ability to identify legal problems and know where to seek help before the situation escalates,” Ms Richards said.

The What’s the law? Australian law for new arrivals legal education package is an initiative of National Legal Aid, supported by Legal Aid Queensland’s Community Legal Education (CLE) program.

Legal Aid Queensland’s CLE program seeks to educate people about their legal rights and responsibilities on a range of legal issues such as consumer protection, debt, criminal law, family law, child protection, domestic violence and youth justice.

Legal Aid visits preferred supplier law firms in regional Queensland

As part of Legal Aid’s commitment to building and maintaining effective working partnerships with its business partners, Legal Aid visited a number of preferred supplier firms across regional and remote Queensland during the second half of 2011.

Legal Aid’s Deputy CEO Mr Paul Davey, along with Regional Services and Business Partnerships Manager Rosemarie Coxon, visited preferred suppliers and community organisations in Roma, Charleville, Cunnamulla, St George, Warwick, Rockhampton, Mackay, Bundaberg, Mt Isa, Proserpine and Townsville.

During their travels Paul Davey and Rosemarie Coxon met with local preferred suppliers, the courts, neighbourhood support centres, community access points, Indigenous organisations and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service.

These visits have been invaluable in providing Legal Aid with an understanding of the challenges faced by its preferred supplier partners in providing legal services on our behalf over vast areas, in addition to operating their own private legal practice. The identification of community legal education opportunities for remote communities was another important aspect of these visits.

An example of the large geographical areas being serviced by preferred supplier law firms in regional Queensland is Legal Aid’s Charleville preferred supplier which services the regions and courts of Charleville, Cunnamulla, Quilpie, Blackall and Tambo; with several hundreds of kilometres of distance between these towns.

All of the firms have praised the local regional Legal Aid Queensland office staff, and provided useful feedback regarding areas where business processes could be streamlined to reduce administrative costs and enhance efficiencies for both Legal Aid and preferred suppliers.

Paul Davey and Rosemarie Coxon will visit preferred suppliers in a number of other centres throughout Queensland this year in conjunction with visits to regional Legal Aid offices.

Collaborating to represent the best interests of children in the justice system

Another way Legal Aid connects with its preferred supplier law firms is through Legal Aid’s Independent Children’s Lawyer and Separate Representative Panel.

An Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) is a solicitor appointed by one of the federal family law courts to represent a child during a dispute about the child, to ensure that the child's best interests are met; while a Separate Representative (SR) is a solicitor appointed by the Childrens Court to represent the best interests of the child in child protection matters.

The panel provides a forum for Legal Aid’s in-house solicitors and preferred supplier law firms to discuss new legislation, court processes, child protection issues, complex matters, and any changes/developments to the Independent Children’s Lawyer and Separate Representative roles.

The panel typically meets two to three times a year with its most recent meeting on 13 February 2012. There are currently 102 panel members with many regional and remote members attending panel meetings via conference call.

Legal Aid Cairns office relocation

In late 2011 our Cairns office relocated to new premises at:

Level 2
Cairns Square Complex
Corner of Abbott and Shields Streets
Cairns QLD 4870

Our new Cairns office is conveniently located in the centre of the Cairns CBD, close to public transport and other amenities. We look forward to the new premises being officially opened later this year.

Principal lawyer appointments

Legal Aid Queensland has made the following Principal Lawyer appointments within its Brisbane in-house legal practices:

Criminal Law Services:
• Kylie Bell - Principal Lawyer, Serious Crime
• Nadia Bromley - Principal Lawyer, Professional Development, Visual Files & Audit
• Bradley Heilbronn - Principal Lawyer, Serious Crime
• David Law - Principal Lawyer, Youth Legal Aid
• Megan Power - Principal Lawyer, Appeals
• Laura Rouse - Principal Lawyer, Solicitor Advocates
• David Thompson - Principal Lawyer, Mental Health Unit
• Kate Volk - Principal Lawyer, Solicitor Advocates
• Penny Williams - Principal Lawyer, Drug Court.

Family Law, Civil Justice and Advice Services
• Linda Debenham - Principal Lawyer, Violence Prevention and Women's Advocacy
• Fionna Fairbrother - Principal Lawyer, Violence Prevention and Women's Advocacy
• Nigel Miller - Principal Lawyer, Child Protection Unit
• Grace Payne - Principal Lawyer, First Advice Contact Team
• Suellan Walker-Munro - Principal Lawyer, Party Representation.

Legal Aid’s regional offices across Queensland are also managed by Principal Lawyers, including:

Regional offices:
• Peter Cooke – Principal Lawyer, Inala
• Anna Farmer – Acting Principal Lawyer, Townsville
• Tisara Gunasekera – Principal Lawyer, Mount Isa
• Gail Hinschen - Principal Lawyer, Mackay
• Jan Kingston - Principal Lawyer, Bundaberg
• Christine Linklater - Principal Lawyer, Caboolture
• Michael Moloney – Principal Lawyer, Southport
• Alexis Oxley - Principal Lawyer, Ipswich
• Trish Price, - Principal Lawyer, Cairns
• Michael Robinson – Acting Principal Lawyer, Maroochydore
• Phillip Stainton – Acting Principal Lawyer, Toowoomba
• Lex Weddell - Principal Lawyer, Woodridge
• Danny Yarrow – Principal Lawyer, Rockhampton.

Legal Aid staff recognised with awards

In late 2011 Legal Aid held its annual Staff Reward and Recognition Awards ceremony which celebrates those staff who have achieved 10, 20, 30 or 40 years of service to the organisation, or made an outstanding contribution to the organisation during the year.

Member for Waterford Evan Moorhead MP represented the Attorney-General at the awards ceremony, and the Legal Aid Queensland Board also attended.

Congratulations to the following staff who were recognised for their long service to Legal Aid Queensland:

40 years of service
• Charlie Claxton

20 years of service
• Razz Elliott
• Sue Ganasan
• Janice Hawes
• Judy Holman
• Fred Lang
• Julie Middleton
• Fiona Muirhead
• Jenni Nobbs
• Judy Stanton
• Susan Stockwell
• Bobbie Trenchard-Smith.

10 years of service
• Shri Abeyewardene
• Brian Begg
• Carmel Chadwick
• Reatha Charles
• Jason Czinki
• Paul Ferguson-Coughtrey
• Leann Hall
• Sarah Haworth
• Craig Hills
• Jan Kingston
• Janelle Lambert
• Aletta Le Roux
• May Mooka
• Julanne Murray
• Tabatha Needham
• Karen Rudd
• Tenille Runge
• Christina Russo
• Jennifer Scott
• Petrina Sheehy
• Amanda Smerdon
• Charlotte Smith
• Janine Tubb
• Penny Williams.

Staff Reward and Recognition Award winners
The following award winners were also announced at the event:

'Builds on our capability and sustainability' award winner:
Human Resources team - for the Structural Realignment

'Progresses our vision through collaboration and advocacy' award winner:
Youth Legal Aid team - for the Youth Bail Project

'Provides quality services' award winner:
Grants Division - for the Moynihan Reform Implementation

'Supports the early resolution of legal problems' award winner:
Kathleen Donnelly - for the Legal Advice Renewal Program

'CEO’s award for outstanding achievement' award winner:
Consumer Protection Unit - for the Flood and Cyclone Legal Help Response

'Chair’s Award for Regional Excellence' award winner:
Cairns Regional Office - for their outstanding work in a complex Supreme Court trial.

Legal Aid publications update

Since the October 2011 edition of Head Note the following publications have been updated:

How do I get a domestic violence protection order?

Someone has applied for a Domestic Violence Protection Order Against me: what are my rights?

Can I get legal aid?

Having a grandchild in your care

Need help to sort out a family law problem?

Need legal help? Ask Legal Aid Queensland for Indigenous Queenslanders

Need help with your money and debt problems?

Have you been charged with an offence? A guide to appearing in the magistrates court 

Wallet card:
Your legal rights (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) 

Protect yourself… abuse is wrong – Domestic violence

DVD resources:
What's the law? Australian law for new arrivals

Publications temporarily unavailable
The following legal information guides have been temporarily removed from distribution while the content and forms are updated:

• Have you been in an accident? A guide to help you work out who pays for the damage
• Does someone owe you money? A guide to help you claim a minor debt of $7500 or less
• Small Claims Tribunal – A consumer guide
• Do I have to keep the car? Used car contracts and your legal rights
• Licence disqualification over two years.


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