- How can VALS help me?
Solicitors at VALS are specialised in one of three areas: criminal law, family law and civil law.
VALS also employs 9 Indigenous Client Service Officer. Five of these are based in regional areas: Ballarat, Bairnsdale, Heywood, Mildura, Morwell, Shepparton and Swan Hill. The other four CSOs are based in VALS’ head office in Melbourne.
Victoria Police are required to advise VALS every time an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person is taken into custoy. VALS Client Service Officer will then contact the person in custody to see if they need legal help.
CSOs can help you in several ways. They can:
- Give general advice about your rights
- Link you up with a VALS solicitor
- Act as a liaison between you and the solicitor
- Take basic instructions and adjourning matters until a solicitor is available
- Lodge court documents
- Visit you in prison
- Help you arrange transport for court appearances.
- What happens with a Koorie versus Koorie dispute?
CONFLICT OF INTEREST EXPLAINED
Some people think that VALS will not act in a matter which involves a dispute between Koorie people – that is, we will only help a Koorie in a dispute with a non-Koorie. This is not true.
We will not refuse to help you just because the other person involved in the dispute is Aboriginal. However, the kind of help we can give you is restricted by the law.
It is important to know that if you approach us for advice and/or representation and there is a conflict of interest we cannot act for you.
A conflict of interest may exist if: – we are already acting for someone connected to your case – you are connected to people at VALS?
If this happens, we will refer you to alternate legal services for help (usually Victoria Legal Aid) or we will brief a private lawyer to represent you.
- What if I need help after-hours?
VALS operates an after-hours service. A metropolitan based Client Service Officer (CSO) is on-call from 5.00pm until 9.00am Monday to Friday, as well as weekends and public holidays. If the matter is of a serious nature, the CSO will contact one of VALS solicitors, who are also on-call after hours.
- Why do I need proof of Aboriginality?
VALS is held accountable by the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department who provide us with funding to provide legal service to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, defined as:
A person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in which she/he lives.
In order to make sure we only act for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people we need to ask clients for confirmation of Aboriginality. You only need to do this the first time you use VALS as we will keep it on file. A confirmation of Aboriginality means providing VALS with a document that is signed by:
- The Chairperson of a recognised Aboriginal Organisation, or
- a designated Aboriginal Officer from a Government Department, or
- any Aboriginal employee of VALS, or
- a statutory declaration signed by you.
VALS will give immediate help if you are arrested or the matter is urgent. However, you will be asked to produce a signed confirmation of Aboriginality as soon as possible.
If you are finding it hard to get such a document, let us know as we may still be able to help you.