I refer to the Legal Aid Consultation in respect to WDVCAS on 14 October
2019 and provide the following feedback.
My principle concern is that WDVCAS has evolved into having too close a relationship with the police and that this is undermining the integrity of the service. Many women presenting to the service are disgruntled with the response of police and WDVCAS staff need to be free to explore this with them and to represent their interests faithfully. There are also increasing numbers of female victims being inappropriately identified as defendants and whose access to the service is often being impeded. In view of these concerns, having the police as key stakeholders in the service poses a significant conflict of interest.
This is evidenced by the removal of legal practitioners from the roster who dare to advocate with police for stronger protection orders or otherwise question police handling of applications.
While it is essential that we co-operate with police who are acting to protect women’s interests, we should not be so enmeshed in their service that it is to the detriment of women’s interests. Watering down the focus on court support, including any name change that obscures this primary purpose, is problematic. I am concerned that WDCVAS is increasingly operating as an instrument of government, primarily facilitating the sharing of women’s confidential information with government agencies without obtaining their explicit consent. This will eventually deter women from accessing this support.
Increasing micromanagement by Legal Aid, such as the proposed setting of pay rates and outcomes based reporting, also detracts from the WDVCAS functioning as an autonomous women’s service. Legal Aid is an agency that is principally engaged in the representation of male defendants in the criminal law system and is not guided by a feminist framework. In view of the gendered nature of domestic violence, it is essential that the governance of WDVCAS should rest fully with autonomous feminist women’s organisations empowered to advocate strongly on behalf of women.
I look forward to receiving more information about the process, incuding the constitution of any assessment committee for determining applications. I would suggest that this committee should be made up of women’s non-government organisations, not government agencies and men’s rights organisations as was the case for the previous process.
I look forward to receiving your confirmation that you have received this brief feedback. I would be more than happy to expand on these concerns if required. Please do not hesitate to contact me on 0402467476 if needed.
Emailed on 2/12/19 as feedback to staff responsible for the consultation process prior to the WDVCAS tender and redesign process. No response received from Legal Aid or Women’s Safety NSW As a result of the tender at least one further service is now being managed by a religious agency.