Collie residents now have greater access to legal advice following the opening of a new “virtual office” of Legal Aid WA, just months after plans to shut down the town’s courthouse were scrapped following a community outcry.
Technology installed at the Collie Family Center will remotely connect people with Legal Aid lawyers via videoconferencing, helping remove a significant barrier to receiving legal assistance and advice in regional areas.
The Collie office is the 19th precinct to join Legal Aid WA’s Virtual Office legal services program and will be able to provide advice across a range of family, civil and criminal law issues including family violence and restraining orders, parenting and property settlement.
Based in outer metropolitan areas and regional centers across WA, these virtual offices have provided more than 4000 legal consultations since the program was launched in July 2019.
Collie-Preston MLA Jodie Hanns said the much-needed facility would help reduce barriers to legal representation.
“This will ensure Collie residents receive the same face-to-face assistance that those in the city experience,” she said.
“All West Australians deserve better access to justice, no matter where they live.”
Julie Jackson, Director of Early Intervention Services at Legal Aid WA, said a state-of-the-art video screen had been installed at the center which would connect clients directly with a lawyer or support worker at Legal Aid’s head office in Perth, or its office in Bunbury.
“Face-to-face legal advice helps to build trust and rapport, which we now know can contribute to successful legal outcomes,” Ms Jackson said.
The Welsh government will tell Westminster to increase civil legal aid funding, the general counsel has revealed, following a visit to the only law center in Wales.
Mick Antoniw, general counsel and minister for the constitution, and Jane Hutt, minister for social justice, visited the Speakeasy Law Center in Cardiff this week.
In an announcement today, Antoniw said: ‘The Speakeasy Law Center is providing a valuable service. I welcome the chance to hear how it is helping people. High-quality legal advice can prevent issues from spiraling and becoming more serious, and I encourage people across Wales to take advantage of the support available to them if they need it.’
Today’s announcement states that despite many areas of justice not being devolved, the Welsh Government’s single advice fund, introduced in January 2020, supports advice services across Wales with around £11m a year, helping to support services like Speakeasy Law Centre.
So far, the fund has supported 144,000 people to deal with more than 660,000 social welfare problems, helped people to claim £83m of additional income, and write off debts worth more than £23m, the announcement states.
Antoniw said: ‘Information and advice services are even more important because of the sweeping real-terms cuts to legal aid over the last decade, which is putting access to advice out of reach for more and more people and increasing the burden on volunteers. We will be stressing the importance of information and specialist advice services, and the need to increase levels of funding, in the upcoming UK government review of civil legal aid.’
Speakeasy Law Center was set up in 1992 and is currently the only law center in Wales. However, work is well underway to set up a law center in Llandudno Junction, North Wales.