Referring clients to Legal Aid Queensland’s civil law services: what community workers need to know
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Referring clients to Legal Aid Queensland’s civil law services: what community workers need to know

November 22, 2019

Connecting disability sector workers and their
clients to Legal Aid services Legal Aid Queensland Fiona Muirhead: Civil justices sort of sits between legal
and general. What happens is you contact the call centre and depending the area of law
that the person you are assisting needs assistance, they may refer you to one of the specialist
clinics that are run by Civil Justice Services. In Civil Justice Services we do specific narrow
areas of civil law. We do anti-discrimination, consumer law, employment law, we provide assistance
to farmers and rural producers in relation to mediations with banks to do with their
debt. We provide assistance, advice and representation in the social security appeals, we give advice
on claims to Victim Assist Queensland and we also run the Civil Law Legal Aid Scheme
and I will get into that towards the end. But we only provide that advice in those particular
areas and if you ring into the call centre, it’s more than likely you will be booked into
one of those specialist clinics. Now, within those specialist clinics, we do have the 30
minute rule but we are a bit naughty. Amber Buckland: They are very naughty. Fiona Muirhead: We are very naughty. We also provide minor
assistance. Now you are going to have people who may not fit the guidelines for a grant
of legal aid for representation, or it may be that we’ve made an assessment that with a
little bit of assistance, that person can go on, on their own. So we, as we are talking
to people, as Amber explained very well, we are making assessments the whole time. We
may even be making an assessment on you, as to how you can assist somebody through a process.
And in particular what we will do is we will provide legal advice and if we think it’s
going to make a difference we will provide minor assistance. I think you will find that
we do that in a huge number of our matters. We are allowed 60 minutes, give or take 60
minutes. But what we will do is we will actually help people. So we might assist them to complete
a complaint or an application to the financial ombudsman service or we will help them with
a form 2 or a form 8 to the Fair Work Commission or with the drafting of a complaint to the
Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland or the Australian Human Rights Commission. In the social security clinic, what we find
is that people haven’t got the evidence that they need to be successful with that particular
appeal against the decision of Centrelink, so we will do is we will say withdraw. This
is what you have to do. Here’s the letter to take to the doctor for proof for your entitlement
to disability support pension. This is the table of impairments. We will do an email
telling them what to do; so we provide that bit extra. Sometimes we will even draft the
submissions for people depending on the tribunal that the person is in and if we think it is
worth it. We are always making an assessment on merit and capacity and things like that.
But the majority of our work is the legal of advice and minor assistance. However, as
Amber has shown you, if we think that the person is vulnerable and you will find that
in Civil Justice Services we have most of our grants of aid have a vulnerability criteria.
So we are only able to do representation in very limited circumstances. The thing that
makes Civil Justice Services a bit harder is that for consumer, employment and Victim
Assist, there’s no opportunity to refer to the private practice for legal representation.
There are no grants of aid for Victim Assist but I will help people through the process
and I’ll help them fill out the forms to Victim Assist and draft submissions on delay or whatever
they need. With consumer and employment law there are no lawyers that we can refer externally.
So not only do we have a means and a merits test and a vulnerability criteria, we then
have a capacity one on top of it and we tend to take the most vulnerable clients. They
tend to be people with disabilities or English as a second language; some level of impairment
or an inability to represent themselves. As I said, if we think somebody can represent
themselves and we think they have got a good case, we will take that extra step and do
the minor assistance. I see that as being extremely effective and it is amazing how
many people will come back going, “Because you gave me the letter, I have been able to
deal with my debt problem or I have been successful in negotiating an unfair dismissal claim.”
It does work. As support workers, you probably want to be
able to do the most for the individual client and you think having the lawyer there representing
them is the best you can possibly advocate for, but sometimes it is very empowering for
somebody to actually have the documents drafted for them but then do the negotiation, themselves,
or to attend, themselves. They learn a lot more and they retain a lot more and they realise
that they can actually do it. But having said that, we are very aware of
the vulnerability criteria and we have the option in certain areas of our practice to
provide representation. Now we have got discrimination. I am going
to give you – (pause) so civil justice services, we do legal advice and minor assistance, legal
representation, and we are very happy to come out and do community education and liaison.
If you want us to come out and talk to your particular group, we are happy to do that. The other thing is we also like doing this
work because we have in certain limited circumstances the power to do submissions on policy/legislative
changes. So we do policy submissions; we do a lot of that sort of work in civil law; and
that is because we get to talk to lots of people and we know what’s happening. As I
say, we do anti-discrimination, consumer law, employment law, farm and rural legal service
that is debt mediation services with banks for farmers and rural producers; social security
appeals, Victim Assist Queensland and I will talk about the Civil Law Legal Aid Scheme
soon. Now, with discrimination, it is very important
with all areas of law there are time limits. With discrimination, it is 12 months, from
the act of discrimination. You can apply out of time but it just makes it more difficult
so if you have somebody who you think has a discrimination claim, be aware of that 12
month time limit. We give advice in relation to discrimination, sexual harassment, vilification
and representation is available in these particular commissions and courts – so the Australian
Human Rights Commission, Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland, Queensland Civil
and Administrative Tribunal, the Queensland Court of Appeal, the Federal Circuit Court
and the Federal Court of Australia. Consumer Protection. The time limits I might
get one of the consumer lawyers to talk to you about that, because it varies. The Queensland
… the consumer protection unit provides advice and legal representation specialising
in consumer injustices and disputes with credit providers and insurers. Now as I say direct
advice is provided by telephone but consumer protection recognises that we have a lot of
vulnerable clients coming through and we have a face-to-face clinic that’s available at Inala
on a Tuesday, Ipswich on a Wednesday and Woodridge on a Thursday. So you can book in for face-to-face
with those lawyers. You have to go through the call centre for that I believe. They give advice on mortgages, personal loans,
leases, credit cards, payday lending, hardship and unjust lending, telecommunications, debtor
harassment, general insurance; and we are particularly busy with natural disasters when
they occur. We do high pressure sales such as door to door, phone selling, power, telephone,
household goods, funeral plans, Christmas hampers, etcetera; unfair terms in consumer
contracts. Now as I say, they will be making an assessment
and if appropriate, they will refer you for representation or they will provide minor
assistance. In employment law, again, time limits are
really important. If you have a person with a disability and they have been dismissed
from their employment and they have 21 days from the date of dismissal to lodge an application
in the Fair Work Commission in relation to their employment. I understand it’s a similar time
limit for state employees as well. That is a very sharp time limit and often three weeks
is about the time it takes some people to come out of the depression associated with
losing their work; too bad, 21 days. If you have got somebody in that situation, act quickly.
We provide advice, minor assistance and in certain circumstances representation. As I have said earlier we give, for representation
we give priority to vulnerable clients or people who are at risk of financial or social
exclusion. Now, we don’t provide advice to business owners, employers or genuine independent
contractors. Genuine independent contractor that is a difficult one sometimes. But your
know if you feel that there is a sham contracting arrangement where somebody is being held out
as a contractor when in fact they are an employee, you can book them in and we will talk to them
about it. In limited circumstances employment law grants
of aid are available for representation. But as I said to you, it is means, merit, vulnerability
and capacity and that applies to consumer law as well. We have a limited practice. It is only in
the Federal jurisdiction and we don’t give advice or provide representation for State
or Local Government employees. Farm and Rural Legal Service – I won’t go into
that too much. I don’t know if you come across too many farmers. You may. We do provide an
advice and representation for mediation with banks for farmers and primary producers. But
I won’t go into that. Just be aware that we have that if you do come across a farmer who
has debt problems. Social security appeals. We undertake advice
clinics at the social services division and general division of the Administrative Appeals
Tribunal in Brisbane on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It is a bit different. Those we don’t provide
an in-house telephone advice clinic. If you have a client who has lodged an appeal, they
can contact the registries of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and book into those clinics.
Now the reason we do that, the registry does the bookings, is because we have full access
to the file then. It’s much better. We can be assured that we have got as much information
as in fact we have as much information as the tribunal has. We find it works much better
because often with social security matters the documents can be this thick and that way,
if you have a client, they can contact the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, if they have
lodged their appeal and asked to be booked into one of these clinics. We provide advice
in relation to all aspects of appeals from Centrelink and much of our work relates to
disability support pensions and people who have been refused or had their applications
for disability support pensions rejected. As I say, the bookings are made by the AAT
(Administrative Appeals Tribunal) registry and we give advice regarding appeals from
Centrelink decisions, prospects of success and evidence. And as I say sometimes it’s
going to be bad, people haven’t done, met the criteria and in that area of practice,
and you’re probably all aware of it, it’s a fairly rigid legislative area. The outcome
of a Centrelink decision might be harsh, unjust, unreasonable, unfair but if it meets the criteria
and the legislation that’s it. And we will say that to people. But we will also say is,
in certain circumstances, particularly with disability support pensions, if you go back
and you do whatever that has to be done to meet the criteria you may be successful but
we will provide that further advice. Grants of aid for legal representation and
assistance. Again according to merit, means and capacity. At the moment we have got one
lawyer who does that particular area. Assistance for victims of crime. Now this
is a three year time limit from the date of the act of violence or if it’s a child, they
have until they turn 21. The victim assist scheme is administered by Victim Assist Queensland
which is part of the (Department of) Justice and Attorney-General and provides victims
of crime with assistance to recover from the effects of crime. We provide advice about
the scheme, how to appeal decisions that have been made and we provide minor assistance
with completing forms and responding to correspondence from Victim Assist Queensland. There are no
grants of aid for direct representation but I run a clinic on a Thursday afternoon and
if people have letters they don’t understand from Victim Assist I will read through them
with them and give them advice as to what they can do. Now, the Civil Law Legal Aid Scheme is something
that I think maybe you might be interested in. Where somebody has a civil law claim that
isn’t covered by Legal Aid’s grants of legal aid. So if we don’t, if it is not discrimination,
employment; any of those areas that we actually provide legal advice and representation in. And
I am particularly talking about personal injuries claims. We run a partnership between Legal
Aid Queensland and The Public Trustee to provide a disbursements only litigation funding scheme.
So that means that if somebody can find a private lawyer who is on the CLLAS (Civil aw Legal Aid Scheme) panel who feels that this person has good prospects of success of a civil law claim and that that
lawyer is prepared to speculate their fees, that means do it on a no win/no fee basis,
then we will consider their application. They have to meet means and merit. And if they
are successful, then we will cover the disbursements associated with running that particular court
action. It is disbursements only; no professional legal costs are covered. So like for a personal
injuries claim, it will cover medical expenses, like reports from doctors, maybe if it is
a traffic matter we will cover reports about which car was heading in what direction. But
it is a good scheme and it is something that you should be aware of if you have a client
who has a possible personal injuries or medico negligence claim. Participant: Who was the partnership with? Fiona: The Public Trustee of Queensland. The Public
Trustee provides the money and Legal Aid does the administration of it. Applicants are expected to refund the scheme
if their claim is successful. There are no charges or fees imposed by CLLAS and if you
are not successful, we don’t chase you for the money we have spent. Now, they will only give a grant of aid where
there’s no grant of legal aid available. So it’s got to be outside the scope of what Legal
Aid does. The action has to be within the Queensland jurisdiction, so we don’t do Commonwealth
law. An approved firm has to be willing to act on a no win/no fee basis. Aid is merit
tested and only approved if the claim has reasonable prospects of success and there
is sufficient quantum. So we are not going to give you a grant unless the solicitor says
“there’s prospect of you getting more than $20,000.” And the applications are subject
mostly to Legal Aid’s means test, although we do allow a higher equity in homes. Now, I have left these out so I won’t run
through all the areas that CLLAS does or doesn’t do, but it is in the PowerPoint that’s been
prepared. And I think pretty much that’s all I have got to say for Civil Justice Services.

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