In the closing stages of 2019 in the shadows of a new year, a new idea was emerging within the offices of the Peninsula Community Legal Centre (PCLC). The Centre’s CEO Jackie Galloway and her team were about to embark upon an ambitious new Street law project that envisaged taking legal services from the office onto the streets of Frankston and the Mornington Peninsula. Fast forward two years and the Street Law project continues its mission despite the impact of COVID restrictions and will be back on the road delivering free legal services, free coffee and material aid at the end of October.
The distinctive element of the Street Law project is that its philosophy is diametrically opposed to the high costs and exclusivity sometimes associated with private legal practice which can deter people from seeking help. It strives to deliver legal services at a time and place of need, reaching out to members of the community whilst seeking nothing in return. Clients appreciate the warm down to earth service where no suits or ties exist, just a smile, a warm ‘cuppa’ and advice if needed. Providing clients with the opportunity to discuss their legal issues in this environment is extremely comforting to them given that apart from needing legal assistance many of our clients have urgent material needs.
“It has been very rewarding to work for the Street Law project,” said Joe Oliver, the project’s “Street Lawyer”. “ I consider the service to be a matter of principle, more akin to a duty of care rather than an occupation performed solely for remuneration. The project provides a vital service that is becoming increasingly relevant and necessary as there is an increasing need for community legal services.”
Recent studies suggest that material inequality is now higher than it has been in decades. The COVID experience has exacerbated this inequality which has led to both higher percentages of people with financial and legal problems and a higher number of people that cannot afford to pay for a lawyer.
“We aim to provide clients with a holistic service that includes refreshments, legal health checks, advice and referrals,” said Mr Oliver. “Usually legal advice can be given on the spot and the issues resolved, otherwise the case can be referred to our specialist legal team for follow up. We are also fortunate in that we have a community worker as part of the team who can provide connections to local non-legal services for help with issues such as housing and a wide array of social issues. Both the barista and community worker spend much of their day listening to and assisting community members. The communities that we have visited have been wonderful hosts.”
These include the townships of Frankston, Hastings, Rosebud, Dromana, Crib Point, Mornington and Somerville. Our hosts provide a space to set up the van for coffee and a room for legal services creating a professional environment.
The importance of the Street Law outreach model is highlighted by the fact that many Street Law clients lack necessary means of transportation and would genuinely struggle to get legal assistance if it were not for the visiting Street Law service. In fact, many clients do not even know that they have a legal issue until they speak with the street lawyer. For instance, a client may have a fine issued from Fines Victoria but may not identify the issue as a potential legal problem.
“We anticipate that Street law will be busy as ever when the current restrictions are fully lifted”, Mr Oliver said. “The large numbers of people who need legal assistance but cannot afford a lawyer has steadily increased with the financial fallout from COVID. We have also been assisting people who have never before had to use free legal services, as well as an increasing number of people who need material aid. Clients are often waiting for the van’s services upon our arrival, lining up while we set up.”
The project is funded by Gandel Philanthropy and The Jack Brockhoff Foundation, but this funding will finish at the end of the year. As the project is reliant on the generous philanthropy of funding agencies in order to remain active, the team at PCLC is hopeful that new donors will be found so that their mission will be able to continue.
Anyone needing free confidential legal advice or wanting to find out the Street Law Coffee Van’s schedule can contact the Peninsula Community Legal Centre on 9783 3600 or visit www.pclc.org.au for more information.
DATE: 14 OCTOBER 2021
Community Engagement Officer
PENINSULA COMMUNITY LEGAL CENTRE INC.
T 9783 3600