The Victorian Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC) has celebrated its first anniversary. But the State Attorney-General Rob Hulls seized the opportunity to question the Coalition’s support.
One stop shop for legal and counselling services
The NJC was created with the passing of the Courts Legislation (Neighbourhood Justice Centre) Act 2006 (Vic) in late 2006.
The act amended the Magistrates' Court Act 1989, the Children and Young Persons Act 1989 and the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 to:
- establish Neighbourhood Justice Divisions in the Magistrates' Court and the Children's Court;
- combine the jurisdiction of the Victorian Magistrates’ and Children’s courts, as well as the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
- provide for the establishment of a multi-jurisdictional court at the NJC; and
- improve access to justice, particularly for vulnerable members of the community.
The first of its kind, the NJC opened in March 2007 in Collingwood and serviced the City of Yarra.
Generally speaking, the NJC functions as a kind of “one stop shop”, incorporating a multi-jurisdictional court and access to services including:
- drug and alcohol counselling
- general legal information
- mental health support and counselling
- housing and employment advice
- financial counselling
- victims' support and compensation advice
- alternative dispute resolution including mediation.
According to Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls, the new Court was designed to stop the cycle of re-offending by tackling the root causes of crime, while providing a more supportive environment for victims by linking them to support and mediation services.
“These services mean that not only can many community justice issues be identified and acted upon before they reach the courts, but once in court, the underlying causes of crime and the needs of victims and defendants can be addressed,” Mr Hulls said in a media statement dated 28 February.
Groundbreaking results in one year
Mr Hulls highlighted the NJC’s “groundbreaking” work undertaken in the past year.
“Since it opened in March 2007, the NJC court has dealt with more than 1200 matters in the Children’s Court, Magistrates Court, Victims of Crime Tribunal and VCAT,” Mr Hulls said.
Other initiatives of the NJC include:
- Changing the way Government agencies deal with disputes;
- Developing mediation programs for housing workers in the City of Yarra dealing with complex tenancy and neighbour issues; and
- Undertaking preventative work such as the Sudanese Youth Justice project to empower the Sudanese community to respond to their young people identified by police at risk of offending.
“These are fantastic programs that are making a real difference to the local community,” Mr Hulls said.
A-G calls for apology
Despite the positive contribution of the NJC to the community, Mr Hulls highlighted the Oppositions initial criticism of the initial legislation.
Victorian Deputy Premier and Attorney-General Rob Hulls said the Liberal Party opposed legislation to set up the visionary NJC in July 2006.
“It's time for the Member for South-West Coast Denis Napthine to apologise for his “apartheid” comment, Mr Hulls said. “It’s also time for the Coalition to declare whether they back the Neighbourhood Justice Centre or not.”