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Settlement Guide: do you know you can access free legal advice in Australia?

 

There are eight legal aid commissions in Australia, one in each state and territory. The purpose of legal aid commissions is to provide vulnerable, disadvantaged and newly arrived Australians with access to justice. In Australia free legal advice is provided for a range of issues: from how to respond to a traffic fine, to what to do in a family crisis.

Jeremie Quiohilag, senior lawyer with Legal Aid NSW Refugee Service, says that free legal advice is supplied for a wide range of issues, like, how to respond to a traffic fine, how to handle rental disputes, how to lodge a consumer complaint or what to do in a family crisis.

Denis Nelthorpe is the Chief Executive Officer of Westjustice, a legal centre in the Western suburbs of Melbourne. He says such court representation is means tested by Legal Aid and not always free.

If youre charged with a serious crime and you dont have any resources for a lawyer youre likely to qualify but the matter has to be sufficiently serious that you might go to jail. But, its fair to say, that people who are on Centrelink will always qualify for Legal Aid, he said.

Created in the 1920s Legal Aid was expanded in the 1970s by then then Whitlam-led federal government.

Later governments established Legal Aid Commissions in all states and territories to provide access to justice for Australians.

This week's Settlement Guide focus for new migrants to Australia is focused on how to access assistance for legal situations.

Who can help me with my legal problems?

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There are eight legal aid commissions in Australia, one in each state and territory. The purpose of these commissions is to provide vulnerable, disadvantaged and newly arrived Australians with access to justice, but all people are entitled to free legal advice. They deliver legal assistance services in criminal, family and civil law matters.

What if I need to go to court?

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If you need more than legal advice, you may be provided with a lawyer to help with your case. However court representation is means tested by Legal Aid and it’s not always free.

For example in NSW you can get a grant of legal aid and the amount you pay depends on your financial situation and what kind of legal problem you have.

Where else can I get legal assistance?

There are several free services available for you to access: 

Community Legal Centres give free legal advice and provide help with problems not covered by Legal Aid.

Immigration Advice and Rights Centres provide advice on most areas of immigration law, including help with lodging applications and appeals.

Migrant Resource Centres provide information, assistance and settlement support to migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants. Here you can find some  such centres in your state:

Australian Capital Territory

News South Wales

Northern Territory

Queensland

South Australia

Tasmania

Victoria

Western Australia

Also in Australia many public libraries have Legal Information Access Centres that provide free information about the law. 

You can get free legal advice over the phone or face-to-face. If you need an interpreter you can call Translating and Interpreting Services TIS on 131 450.

Visit here for more information on Legal Aid Commissions in your state or territory.