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Can you tell me a bit about your tertiary studies – what influenced your choices?

I did a Law Degree at The University of Melbourne, finishing in 1993. I chose law because I thought I would become a barrister – based on my very insubstantial background of having done a bit of public speaking and debating in my last couple of years in high school!

What was the most pivotal moment for you in your study and then career?

Study: Feminist Legal Theory with Jenny Morgan (now Professor Jenny Morgan). I wrote a 10,000 word essay on the defence of “battered women” who kill. While researching and writing that essay I started to think that I would like to work across legal and social support for women experiencing gendered violence.

Career: I left a job with a big corporate law firm thinking that I would never work in law again. Instead, I explored the possibility of starting my own business through undertaking a Cert IV in Small Business Management. While I was doing the Cert IV, I volunteered at Women’s Legal Service Victoria, “just to keep my hand in” and here I am 15 years later (apart from a couple of years away in State Government)

What are some of the barriers that women face with regards to accessing legal representation?

Financial: many women are unable to afford private legal representation but are ineligible for assistance from legal aid commissions due to funding shortages, strict funding guidelines and gender biased funding allocations

Information: women, particularly women experiencing disadvantage such as recent migrants, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women with disabilities have limited access to information on how to secure legal representation and on what they can expect from their legal representatives. Their legal problems have often escalated before they find someone who can assist them.

Capabilities of legal representatives: many lawyers are ill-equipped to respond to the legal and related needs of women experiencing family violence and relationship breakdown – which are the major contexts in which women need legal help.

How does your organisation assist?

Every day Women’s Legal Service Victoria helps women to protect themselves and their children from violence and make free and informed decisions about their relationships. We prioritise assisting women who are facing particular barriers to accessing justice and whose cases will have significant impact.

We do this by providing legal advice and representation, legal education and policy advocacy. We initiate and participate in law reform activities, ensuring that clients’ experiences are taken into account when legal policy is being developed or when changes are being made to the law. We deliver legal education, training and professional development to a range of organisations and professional groups.

We assist over 3000 individual women every year, at least 70% of whom have been victims of family violence. Our education and policy programs benefit many more women.

See www.womenslegal.org.au for more information.

What are you most proud of in regards to your work and the work of the WLSV?

We work as part of a movement for social change to challenge social, political, economic and legal structures that disadvantage women. This means that we alongside our clients, appreciating the complexity of their situation and supporting them to address all of their needs. We continually innovate to reach and meet the needs of women experiencing disadvantage

Tell us a bit about your upcoming talk, “family violence: a new approach or same same but different?”

Family violence has reached epidemic levels in Australia. Thanks to incredible advocates like Rosie Batty, more and more ordinary Australians are joining their voices to those calling for governments at all levels, the community and individual men and women to put an end to family violence.

Australia’s first Royal Commission into Family Violence reports on the 29th of March. I am hoping that the Commission will have thought big – if we could start from scratch, what would the response to family violence look like? What would we be doing to prevent violence before it occurs, to intervene early, to respond to crisis and to support recovery? Who would be involved and how? If it’s not to be a truly new approach, will the recommendations for changes to the current response be sufficiently different to offer real hope for different outcomes?

Book for our monthly luncheon with Joanna Fletcher.

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