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Demand for legal aid set to grow as new coercive control laws come into effect

New Legal Aid NSW data has shown that demand for assistance with domestic violence has grown in recent years, with demand for lawyer services increasing significantly.

user iconLauren Croft 30 April 2024 Big Law
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Legal Aid NSW has experienced a surge in demand for legal assistance, particularly with Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVOs), over the last two years, with new coercive control reforms later this year likely to drive even more demand.

New data from Legal Aid NSW’s Domestic Violence Unit (DVU) shows calls to its hotline grew 36 per cent over two years, while duty lawyer services – advice provided by lawyers in court – grew by 61 per cent. Duty lawyer services for ADVOs specifically have grown 25 per cent.

The DVU team comprises lawyers, domestic violence case workers, mental health workers and financial counsellors who operate across the state. It was established as part of a $100 million Women’s Safety Package announced in 2015. While this service is funded by the Commonwealth government through the National Legal Assistance Partnership until mid-2025, domestic violence in NSW is also driving increased demand across Legal Aid’s wider family law division, including in the Family Advocacy and Support Service and Family Law Service for Aboriginal Communities.


This comes after Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus slammed the “scourge on our society” that is male violence earlier this month, describing the death of one woman every week to domestic violence as an epidemic that “must end”.

Family law executive director Alexandra Colquhoun said the DVU does not turn anyone away from initial advice, and legal help can be pivotal in stopping domestic violence from continuing.

“Twenty-five women dying from domestic violence so far this year is an epidemic which is preventable, including by having early access to legal advice to help clients to stay safe. A lawyer can help seek changes to an ADVO to better protect the victim or their children, or to connect them with a case worker for safety planning,” she said.

“Our help is free, and we do not turn anyone away from advice.”

According to Colquhoun, broad demand for Legal Aid NSW’s services has most likely grown as a result of a combination of factors, including the overall increase in reports of domestic violence to police, increased awareness of domestic violence and both the cost-of-living and housing crisis.

Of the more than 7,700 duty lawyer services provided in 2022–23, 94 per cent were to women and 36 per cent to those in regional NSW.

“Most people require help taking out or varying an ADVO to ensure that it keeps them safe. In the past year alone, there have been more than 22,500 breaches of AVOs, so we stand ready to help women who may need to vary or add conditions, such as no contact,” Colquhoun said.

“Data shows domestic violence assaults have increased in regional NSW, so we want people in the regions to know help is available. We expect demand to grow once the new laws criminalising coercive control come into effect in July this year. This will likely see more victim-survivors seeking legal advice about whether their circumstances may constitute coercive control.”

Legal Aid NSW chief executive Monique Hitter added that the DVU was essential to change as part of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022–2032.

“Our staff provide early advice and assistance to clients experiencing violence or in fear of violence and assist clients in crisis to get to safety, with positive and long-lasting change. Our help can stop legal issues from compounding into other social problems like mental illness, homelessness or children ending up in the care system. It is an essential part in addressing the scourge of domestic violence in NSW,” she said.

“The Chief Justice of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia last week acknowledged the role of legal assistance services in addressing domestic violence while the Commonwealth Attorney-General highlighted the importance of legal assistance for those experiencing domestic violence.”