Legal Yarn a first for Australia as Legal Aid WA marks Reconciliation Week

Written by: Yamatji Wadjarri Lawyer, Michelle Sims - First Nations Coordinator, Legal Aid WA

Two years ago, Legal Aid WA took a major step towards realising our vision of equitable treatment and access to justice for First Nations people across Western Australia.

Legal Aid WA has a proud history of recognising inequality within the justice system and working towards the needs of our most vulnerable clients, who are often First Nations people.

We know that being an Aboriginal person is the second largest contributing factor to being a Legal Aid WA client after disability, and about 27% of our clients identify as First Nations people.

So, we launched Jalba in May 2021 – Coming Together - our First Nations Strategic Plan.

Jalba was a pledge and a commitment to deliver improved justice outcomes for First Nations people in WA, and at the heart of it was a commitment to increasing Aboriginal staffing levels to better reflect the diversity of our clients, and to collaborate with Aboriginal-led organisations to ensure that cultural and language considerations are prioritised and respected.

51 actions came out of that First Nations Strategic Plan, and I am proud to say that in the last two years we have already achieved 30 of them, including the development of Legal Yarn which is being launched today.

Legal Yarn is a First Nations legal information and referral call centre, and it is an Australia first.  First Nation clients will access Legal Yarn through its own dedicated number and will create referral pathways through collaboration with other partner organisations.

Our First Nation clients will immediately be able to speak with a First Nations officer, providing a culturally safe environment with a view of providing legal services and wraparound, First Nation specific referrals.

It has been created and led by our staff – ‘by mob for mob’. They were the catalyst for Legal Yarn, and they have played a leading role in all the discussions and in successfully bringing the service to life.

They should be all be incredibly proud of the service they have helped to create to help our First Nations people obtain better access to justice. Their dedication and understanding of the importance of relatability and connection have been crucial, and I know they are all so excited and proud to be a part of it.

We know that First Nations people face disproportionate levels of interaction with the justice system, which can be challenging to navigate without assistance.

While our existing telephone line is there to support all callers, there was clear evidence that Aboriginal callers sometimes felt more comfortable speaking with fellow First Nations mob.

We hope that Legal Yarn will encourage more First Nations people to seek legal aid and avail themselves of the legal protections and supports guaranteed to them under Western Australian law.

One of the goals within Legal Aid WA’s First Nations Strategic Plan that I am most proud of is to achieve 5% First Nations Staffing by 2024 and 10% by 2027. With 14 new Legal Yarn team members, we are about to pass 8% staffing; something we are all proud of and which sets the benchmark for real change.

Increasing our staffing levels increases the sense of community and cultural safety within our workplace and it also increases accessibility for our people who may feel more comfortable talking to an Aboriginal person who will understand more deeply their experience

Back in November, we began trials of Legal Yarn by providing First Nations people with the option to talk with a First Nations staff member.

The response to the six-month trial was encouraging with more than 1,700 callers actively seeking the support of these dedicated operators, evenly split between family matters, civil law support, criminal law issues, and help with grants of aid.

I remember one client I represented was referred from the Legal Yarn team. She had been racially profiled and unfairly targeted by police. The Legal Yarn information officer referred her to me and I was able to represent her, resulting in her matter being discontinued.

At the end of proceedings, she stood up in court and said ‘I believe justice has been served Your Honour’. Our Legal Yarn team was able to connect with her on a cultural level, creating a safe and supportive environment, and empowered her to share her experiences and seek justice.

I remember her overwhelming joy and gratitude which underscores the profound impact that our First Nations Strategic Plan and our commitment to First Nations staff representation can have on the people we serve.

Great things happen when leadership teams buy into the necessity to do things differently. Tomorrow we will launch Innovate, our 6th Reconciliation Action Plan, integrating our First Nations Strategic Plan and committing to redouble our efforts towards reconciliation.

It is fitting that this all happens within National Reconciliation Week. This year, the theme is ‘Be a Voice of Generations’. This is a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge and commit to being a voice for reconciliation in tangible ways that make an impact.

Legal Aid WA has done an incredible job inviting First Nations voices to the table and creating a ‘nothing about us without us’ approach to all things within the First Nations community.

Our hope is that Legal Yarn will help to ensure that all Aboriginal Western Australians are able to access justice in the most appropriate way for them.

Legal Yarn –1800 319 803 (free and confidential from anywhere in Australia)


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