ACT News

Domestic violence: call for extra lawyer for Women's Legal Centre

A leading Canberra legal centre that helps women combat domestic violence has called for funding for a new lawyer to respond to "overwhelming" demand for services. 

The Women's Legal Centre was spared from planned cuts in a federal government backdown last month and now hopes the ACT government will chip in.

Heidi Yates, who ended her time as the centre's executive director on April 17, said pressures remained on the organisation's budget.

A bid for $90,000 in annual ACT government funding would provide an extra full-time solicitor, offsetting a near $30,000 decline in income from the ACT Law Society's statutory interest account grants for the coming financial year, she said.

"We don't receive funding from the ACT government for our core services, and we are calling on the ACT government to fund the frontline work of the centre to allow us to go someway to meeting the overwhelming demand from women," she said.

The centre provides a range of advice to women on domestic violence orders and family law orders, as well as victims of crime, child protection and discrimination matters.

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Ms Yates said the centre helped nearly 1200 women last financial year, up 5 per cent from the year before, with two-thirds of family law clients experiencing domestic or family violence.

"A large number of the people we can't help due to resources have experienced domestic violence," she said.

Ms Yates said the centre welcomed the renewed focus on the prevalence of domestic violence across Canberra and the federal government's recent decision to withdraw a planned $100,000, two-year cut.

"We welcome in particular the spotlight on well-resourced, frontline specialist services to ensure victims of domestic and family violence can access the crisis support they need at the time when they feel safe enough to come forward," she said.

The centre, which receives a large number of referrals from the Domestic Violence Crisis Service, helps many women access Legal Aid but also has a major role helping those who are not eligible for a grant yet still unable to afford a private lawyer.

Ms Yates has taken up a position as Legal Aid ACT's head of general practice. Her replacement, Elena Rosenman​, a manager and advisor at the Attorney-General's Department, will begin her role on Monday, May 4.  

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

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