Community lawyers and advocates voice strong support for royal commission on youth detention

Community lawyers and advocates have strongly supported calls for a royal commission following revelations of young people held in isolation and severely mistreated in detention in the Northern Territory.

They say the inquiry must focus on solitary confinement, the use of restraints, the practice of remand, and the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in youth detention.

‘Last night’s Four Corners program was shocking, but it’s important to recognise that solitary confinement is damaging and abhorrent in itself, before we even consider the further abuse detailed in the program. It breaks the spirit, causes serious psychological and physical harm, and heightens the risk of self-harm and suicide,’ said Tiffany Overall, convenor of Smart Justice for Young People, today.

‘Solitary confinement should be banned. Children require support to rehabilitate, not punitive, barbaric responses. Yet we know that solitary confinement is used for behavioural management in all states and territories,’ she said.

In addition to the royal commission, Overall called on the Federal Government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), which Australia signed in 2009, to enhance commitment to independent monitoring, oversight and investigation of the treatment of children and young people in detention in Australia.

The Federation of Community Legal Centres has also strongly backed a royal commission and swift action to protect children and young people, but warns the circumstances revealed in last night’s report may not be confined to the Northern Territory.

‘Complementing the royal commission, all States and Territories need to take action and ensure accountability so that children are protected,’ said Serina McDuff, executive officer of the Federation, today.

‘Last night’s program underlines the risks of recent calls for increased use of incarceration as a simplistic response to youth offending in Victoria. It’s why we say it must be a last resort, and why we need the strongest possible scrutiny to ensure that when incarceration is used, it’s an opportunity for rehabilitation, not damage and abuse,’ McDuff said.

She said the Federation, through its Smart Justice project, would continue to advocate for alternatives to reduce incarceration, including rehabilitation, effective diversion and early intervention.

Download this media release (PDF)

For media comment

Tiffany Overall
0400 903 034

Serina McDuff
0451 411 479

Legal peak rejects Brandis comments, urges PM response to open letter on legal help crisis

The Federation of Community Legal Centres has strongly rejected comments by Federal Attorney-General George Brandis at this week’s legal affairs election debate, and has called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to respond urgently to an open letter on the crisis in community legal centre funding. Continue reading

Dreyfus-Brandis debate a vital chance to focus on legal help funding crisis, community lawyers say

A debate this afternoon between Attorney-General George Brandis and Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus offers a vital chance to focus on the national crisis in community legal centre funding in the lead-up to the Federal election, according to the peak body for fifty community legal centres in Victoria. Continue reading

Family violence, homelessness and the Royal Commission into Family Violence: The place of community legal help

Dr Chris Atmore, Senior Policy Adviser, Federation of Community Legal centresDr Chris Atmore, Senior Policy Adviser, Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria) Inc.

This article was first published in Parity magazine, a publication of the Council to Homeless Persons.


Community legal centres (CLCs) play an essential part in the Victorian response to family violence. Most obviously, 20 CLCs provide duty lawyers for family violence intervention order matters in 29 Magistrates’ Courts around the State. These CLCs mainly assist victims – the majority being women and their children – so that they can be effectively protected from the perpetrator’s violence. The fact that CLCs specialise in this way helps victims, because those CLCs are aware of the appropriate support pathways, have close relationships with other family violence service providers, and are trained to work with traumatised clients. Continue reading

Prime minister, it’s time to acknowledge and act on the crisis in community legal centre funding

Update, Friday 29 July: Federal Government responds to our open letter to prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the legal assistance funding crisis.

An open letter to Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia

14 June 2016

Dear Prime Minister,

As the peak body for fifty community legal centres in Victoria, we write to call on the Federal Government to act urgently on the compelling evidence of a crisis in the funding of free legal help for vulnerable people through community legal centres in this State and, indeed, across Australia.

Despite the May Federal Budget, community legal centres nationally still face a 30 per cent cut from July 2017, with the Budget retaining more than $34 million in cuts amid a broader Federal funding shortfall of $100 million over the next four years. Continue reading

Fact-checking Attorney-General Brandis on community legal centre funding

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis has been repeating a tired and misleading defence to media reporting of a 30 per cent cut threatening community legal centres nationally from July next year.

Sadly for these providers of free legal help for people who can’t afford a private lawyer or get legal aid, the May Federal Budget left in place more than $34 million in cuts amid a broader Federal shortfall of $100 million over four years. Continue reading

Community legal peak appoints respected lawyer, campaigner and advocate as new executive officer

Respected lawyer, campaigner and advocate Serina McDuff has been appointed as executive officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, the peak body for 50 community legal centres in Victoria.

‘Serina is experienced in leading national campaigns and building deep engagement, has a record of senior leadership in the NGO and government sectors, and as a lawyer and policy advisor has worked to advance human rights, law reform and policy development,’ said Federation Committee Chair, Belinda Lo, today. Continue reading