In 1981 a public meeting was held in Melbourne to discuss how to make the law and legal system recognise women and their needs. Six months later Women’s Legal Resource Group (WLRG) was formed. It was located in Women’s Liberation House and was staffed by volunteers.
The service provided free telephone advice and a referral service. In 1984 WLRG received a grant from the Legal Aid Commission to expand the telephone legal advice and referral service. A dedicated team of volunteers participated in law reform campaigns and produced publications. Throughout the 1980s up to the mid-90s WLRG operated under a collective model and was located in West Melbourne and Fitzroy.
In 1996, as a result of the Access to Justice Enquiry and Equality Before the Law Report, additional funding was made available under the Justice Statement. It was part of an initiative to establish women’s legal services in each state. Funding was also made available to auspice Indigenous women’s legal programs across Australia. This was a time of significant change for WLRG. In an attempt to strengthen the statewide focus WLRG relocated into the CBD.
With the additional funding WLRG expanded, developing an outreach service in the western suburbs and in rural areas. Additional staff were employed to expand the legal advice line, offer face-to-face legal advice, manage casework and conduct legal education programs. On 1 August 2000 at a Special General Meeting, WLRG changed its name and became Women’s Legal Service Victoria (WLSV) and moved from a collective to a governance structure. A new constitution was adopted and Board members were elected.
In 2001 & 2002 the WLSV Board worked with stakeholders to develop a clearer direction for the organisation. A decision was made to restructure WLSV, enabling the organisation to become a more specialised service, developing expertise in the areas of law relating to relationship breakdown and violence against women. As a result of the restructure a more casework-focused service emerged, where casework directly informed (from first-hand experience) which law reform and legal education issues WLSV would prioritise.
In 2011, WLSV undertook a comprehensive strategic review, informed, once again, by all of our major stakeholders. The review confirmed the importance of WLSV’s specialist focus, on issues arising from relationship breakdown and violence against women, whilst identifying a number of new or enhanced activities aimed at increasing the impact of the service.
Through its Link program, WLSV now partners with 18 agencies across the state to enable women who have experienced family violence to access legal advice via internet video conferencing. Link allows women to overcome geographic, cultural, economic and other barriers to accessing legal services, whilst ensuring private and safe connections with lawyers. It facilitates an inter-disciplinary approach between lawyers and social workers to address women’s legal and non-legal needs. Link is a cost effective and highly flexible way to provide outreach and respond to changing demographics and legal needs. For a list of our partner agencies and the geographic coverage of the service please contact us on [email protected].
In 2014, WLSV embarked on another innovative project, Stepping Stones, which supports women to recover financially from family violence and separation by: