Saturday, 22 November 2008

Attorney Opens New Legal Aid Centre

Yesterday the Attorney-General Robert McClelland opened the new Family Dispute Resolution Centre for Legal Aid Queensland at 193 North Quay, Brisbane. Legal Aid Queensland has been engaged in family dispute resolution since 1986 ( I am showing my age as a long time Brisbane family lawyer- I appeared for a client in one of those conferences- now two buildings ago), pioneering the process for legal aid commissions throughout Australia. According to the Attorney's stats, the family dispute resolution process run by Legal Aid Queensland is the biggest in the country.

That Legal Aid Queensland is opening a dedicated family dispute resolution centre is testament to the level of need. It is also testament to Legal Aid Queensland's commitment to this process. Legal Aid Queensland recognises that family dispute resolution (or as it used to be called- mediation) can come up with results that are cheaper, less bitter and stressful and with a more child focussed outcome than might occur in court.

It is certainly a long way from when I attended their legal aid conferences in the lunch room at the then Woodridge office. The lunch room was particularly bad: it was almost impossible to have private sessions, no one in that office could have lunch or even make cups of tea while a conference was underway [ or they would interrupt to get their sangers out of the fridge] , creating resentment with those who worked there, but worst of all the ventilation was dreadful so that after a while the air would get stale pretty quickly.


Here is the Attorney's blurb:

Opening of Legal Aid QueenslandFamily Dispute Resolution Centre193 North Quay, BrisbaneFriday 21 November 2008, 2:00pm
First, may I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we meet on – and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.
[Other Acknowledgements]· Ms Jenny Hardy, CEO, Legal Aid Queensland·
The Hon Justice Barry, Family Court of Australia·
Federal Magistrate Spelleken, Federal Magistrates Court ·
Mr Peter McKay, Acting Director General, Queensland Department of Justice ·
Ms Margaret O’Donnell, Chair of Legal Aid Queensland’s Board·
Ms Jennifer McArdle, Legal Aid Queensland·
Ms Iyla Davies, Member of the Legal Aid Queensland Board·
Mr Allan Welsh, Member of the Legal Aid Queensland Board·

Ladies and gentlemen
[Introduction]1. Good afternoon everyone. It’s a great pleasure to be here with you today to open Legal Aid Queensland’s new purpose built Family Dispute Resolution Centre servicing the Brisbane area. [The Role of Legal Aid Commissions in the family law system]
2. The opening of this centre reminds us, in a practical way, of the important role that legal aid commissions play in Australia’s family law system.
3. Indeed, I think Legal Aid Queensland under the leadership of John Hodgins can claim credit for the system of family law mediation that has developed around Australia.And this pioneering work has been built on by Jenny Hardy.
4. As part of the range of family law services that legal aid commissions provide to disadvantaged Australians, commissions have led the way with their Family Dispute Resolution services.
5. In 2007-08, legal aid commissions provided more than 16,000 grants of aid for family dispute resolution and arranged more than 7,000 dispute resolution conferences.5,000 of these grants were provided by Legal Aid Queensland which held some 2,391 conferences.
6. This is an essential, grassroots service – assisting people to resolve disputes before they get to Court.
7. Family dispute resolution also complements other components of the family law system.The legally-assisted family dispute resolution is critical to fill a gap between Family Relationship Centres and litigation before the Court.
8. I believe that a diversity of services is one of the great strengths of the family law system. And it’s a collaborative approach – where the courts, legal aid commissions, family relationship centres, community legal centres, family violence prevention legal services and Indigenous legal aid all play a role in assisting people through the family law system. [Alternative Dispute Resolution]
9. Legal aid commissions deal with some of the most complex family law disputes experienced by the most disadvantaged members of the community.
10. This centre will provide the best possible accommodation for Legal Aid Queensland’s well-established family dispute resolution services - consisting of lawyer‑assisted mediation and conciliation and, where necessary, the input from counsellors and psychologists.
11. There are many benefits to be had by keeping disputes out of court.Family dispute resolution is unquestionably less stressful for those involved at a time of great emotional distress for families, it frees up court time for more entrenched family law cases, and it significantly reduces costs for all parties involved.
12. Family law conferences can also provide an opportunity for separating couples to have greater involvement in decisions, including decisions about future arrangements for children. Indeed, mediation can often achieve outcomes that can not be made the subject of formal court orders.
13. As with other types of ADR, family dispute resolution can help get to the heart of matters –drawing out facts, identifying issues, developing mutual understanding and enabling discussion to occur about solutions that work for the individuals involved.
14. It can also manage a process to address underlying issues.For instance, mediation can be adjourned to enable a parent to undergo appropriate counselling – whether that be drug, alcohol or psychological. [Evaluation of Family Dispute Resolution in Legal Aid Commissions]
15. Some of you may be aware that my Department has commissioned a national evaluation of family dispute resolution in legal aid commissions.
16. The evaluation is considering a broad range of issues, including:· screening and intake;· application of the concept of best interests of the child;· client satisfaction with family dispute resolution; and· opportunities to strengthen existing practices.
17. In the interests of natural justice, the evaluation is also considering how to better assist clients with special needs, such as those with mental health issues, clients who speak a language other than English and those with different religious beliefs.
18. I expect this evaluation will highlight many of the strengths of family dispute resolution in legal aid commissions that I have outlined – and identify areas for continuous improvement. [Collaboration between the Services]
19. Australians need a range of options to best meet their needs where they face sensitive and difficult legal matters.
20. And I strongly believe that to enable families to access the services that best suits their needs, we must have effective collaboration between service providers.
21. I want to eliminate the so called ‘referral merry-go-round’ to avoid duplication of effort and to ensure that the services and expertise of all our programs are well known and effectively used.
22. It is important that each part of the system values each other’s contribution, and actively facilitates the client’s access to each other’s services.
23. As a society we expect parents to cooperate for the sake of their children.
24. The wider community also has the right to expect that courts, legal professionals and service providers also work together in the best interests of the children involved.We are dealing with people at a very vulnerable time and we are dealing with a future generation of Australians at a very formative time.
25. That is also my expectation and one that I will continue to encourage across the country.
[Accreditation Standards]
26. The ongoing development of the family law system is vital to ensure we continue to accurately meet people’s needs.
27. As set out in the 2006 amendments to the Family Law Act, accreditation standards for practitioners have now been introduced in the Family Law (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner) Regulations 2008.
28. These changes aim to ensure family dispute resolution providers are assessed on their actual skills and meet a set of nationally consistent standards.The standards are also designed to enhance the quality and consistency of dispute resolution services and improve the credibility of alternative dispute resolution generally.
[Conclusion]29. Earlier this year in Brisbane at the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Queensland Law Society, I spoke about the practice of law and the ideals that bind the legal profession together.Amongst other things I pointed to the promotion and protection of rights, and of adhering to the very highest standards of integrity and service.
30. These are matters in fact that appear amongst the aims of Legal Aid Queensland’s Service Charter –which has guided the Commission in its current structure since it was formed 29 years ago.
31. I commend CEO Jenny Hardy and her staff on the opening of this Family Dispute Resolution Centre – and for making it accessible to your clients’ needs.
32. The centre has been carefully designed to maximise the safety and privacy of both clients and practitioners.
33. I am confident that the centre will greatly enhance the key role that Legal Aid Queensland’s dispute resolution services already play in assisting the families of Brisbane.
34. It’s my great pleasure to declare the Legal Aid Queensland Family Dispute Resolution Centre officially open.

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