Health justice partnership
Wednesday, 2nd September, 2020
By Annette Northey
Maari Ma and Warra Warra Legal Service yesterday entered into a partnership aimed at addressing the intersecting health and legal problems stemming from the unmet legal needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.
The Health Justice Partnership, a nation-wide initiative, will see the two services work together to address unmet legal need through the provision of legal assistance to people who need it but are otherwise unlikely to access legal help.
In 2012, a landmark study in Australia established that over one-fifth of people in Australia experience three or more legal problems in a given year, many of which are associated with increased risk of physical or mental illness; and that many of them do not seek advice for these problems. However, when they do, they are more likely to seek assistance from a non-legal advisor, such as a health professional, than a lawyer.
Principal Solicitor for Warra Warra Legal Service Leah Billeam said a lot of people are constrained about going to see a lawyer.
“That’s why they set this up. Because people are more willing to come in for medical help, and from that it flows on to the legal stuff,” she said.
Linda Lynott, Executive Manager of the Primary Health Care Service at Maari Ma, elaborated on what that might look like.
“Quite often we do find out a lot of information from people when they come in to see about a health issue, but there’s a lot going on.
“Just something like people, for example, might not be taking their blood pressure tablets regularly and when you probe into why that is, you find out they’ve got lots of other issues impacting on them and they can’t worry about their blood pressure tablets because they’re too worried about something else,” Ms Lynott said.
Manager of Warra Warra Legal Service Shannon Oates said it can be something as simple as traffic fines.
“And we often find that people leave things to the last minute, and it builds up and overwhelms them,” said Ms Lynott.
“So hopefully, from our perspective, we can just say ‘well come in on Thursday and Leah will be here’, and ‘I can be with you if you’re anxious, and I can introduce you’ and help them to tell their story.”
Maari Ma Service Manager Kendy Rogers said it was about being in familiar surroundings.
“They feel more confident in opening up,” she said.
“And getting those issues sorted, or helping people, is really what you need to do before you can concentrate on their health problems, Ms Lynott said.
Ms Billeam said they were hoping to just slip into that and give the extra support.
Initially, Warra Warra will be providing a lawyer onsite one morning per week for clients seeking legal advice, and who are identified by the service as qualifying for it.
“In terms of how it will work as a matter of practice, it will be very small, with one lawyer on site on Thursday mornings each week, and then depending on how things go, Monday might be a better day than Thursday, for example.
“We have to be flexible, so we’ll start on Thursdays but we’ll see what the demand is,” Ms Billeam said.
The partnership will also entail a mutual exchange of knowledge and skills between the two services.
Warra Warra will provide legal education to assist health workers to identify and respond to their patients’ legal needs and Maari Ma will provide health education to lawyers to help them identify and respond to the health impacts of their clients’ unmet legal needs.
Health and Justice partnerships have been described as the quiet revolution taking place across Australia, transforming the way some of the most vulnerable in our community access legal services.