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Lawyers devise legal advice plan for any future disasters

Date

Louis Andrews

Attorney General Simon Corbell.

Attorney General Simon Corbell. Photo: Jay Cronan

Lawyers have come up with a plan to help Canberrans access legal advice in the wake of disasters like the 2003 bushfires.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell launched the territory's Emergency Legal Help plan yesterday, the first of its kind in Australia.

''We in Canberra know all too well the tragedy and trauma that comes with an emergency, like a bushfire, and following such a major emergency event, it is essential that community members receive appropriate and reliable legal advice from industry professionals,'' he said.

The plan, designed by the ACT Legal Assistance Forum, lays out a framework for a co-ordinated a legal response to large-scale emergencies.

It was prompted by a 2011 report from the National Pro Bono Resource Centre, calling for plans to be put in place in the wake of the Queensland floods and Victorian fires.

The plan aims to give free legal advice to anyone affected by an emergency, with hotlines and a website set up to handle demand.

And the ACT Law Society will keep a register of lawyers volunteering to provide legal services in case disaster strikes.

The society's president, Noor Blumer, said the group stepped in to help the victims of the 2003 bushfires which devastated parts of the city.

''Canberra is a community that never expected to be a disaster area, but became one in January 2003,'' she said. ''It was generally agreed that Canberra was ill-prepared, in many ways, for that devastation.''

Legal Aid chief executive Andrew Crockett said it was hoped the plan would, in a perfect world, remain unused.

''We hope the territory will never again suffer a natural disaster or other emergency of the magnitude of the 2003 bushfires, and that it will never be necessary to activate ACT Emergency Legal Help,'' he said.

''However chances are that in the lifetime of people in this room there will be such an event, and it's important therefore we are ready, and remain ready, to respond to it.''

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