The Equal Opportunity Legal Service was launched by Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark MP last week as part of Victorian Legal Aid’s (VLA) ‘Insight’ series of public forums on legal topics.
The new service was developed by VLA and the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) and will provide free advice and legal assistance to people involved in discrimination or harassment complaints.
The service will address a gap in the current system, where those more likely to experience discrimination often find it difficult to access legal help.
“It takes a lot of courage to speak out against discrimination and until now many people brave enough to make a complaint have had limited support,” said Kristen Hilton, the director of civil justice, access and equity at VLA.
“The person making a complaint usually can’t afford a lawyer, and may be up against an organisation or employer that can comfortably afford legal representation.”
Fiona McLeay, the executive director of PILCH, said there is often a power imbalance in discrimination matters.
“The people who are most likely to be discriminated against are those who have a disability, don’t speak English well or are otherwise disadvantaged or vulnerable,” she said.
In December 2011, the Victorian Government provided $1.45 million over the next three years to establish the Equal Opportunity Legal Service.
It will help unrepresented people who attend the Anti-Discrimination List at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, as well as giving information, advice, and representation for those who need it. The private legal profession will also accept referrals to assist people on a pro bono basis through the PILCH scheme.