The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (‘the Court’) is proud to partner with the Victorian Bar in the Victorian Pro Bono Court Referral Scheme to facilitate the provision of pro bono (free of charge) assistance from barristers to litigants in family law proceedings before the Court.
What is the Scheme?
The Victorian Bar Pro Bono Scheme is a Scheme operated by the Victorian Bar in conjunction with the Court. It provides a process for the Court’s judicial officers to make a request to the Victorian Bar for advice, representation and assistance from barristers when judicial officers identify circumstances in which such assistance is needed to ensure the administration of justice and litigants are unable to afford to obtain representation.
How does the Scheme Work?
The Scheme operates on a referral model, where matters identified by the Court as being appropriate for inclusion in the Scheme are referred to members of the Victorian Bar by way of an online platform. Referrals are made on the Court’s initiative and not at the request of litigants.
Once a pro bono request is uploaded to the platform, notification is provided to barristers who practise in family law. Barristers can access the platform via a link in the notification email to obtain further details about the referral (with identifying material removed) and accept the referral electronically. If a referral is accepted by a barrister, further information about the proceeding is then provided to that barrister.
Barristers are not required to accept pro bono referrals. Those who participate in the Scheme do so because they believe that the provision of legal assistance at the Court’s request in a case where there is an unrepresented party serves the public interest in the due administration of justice, improves access to justice and promotes legal equality and the principle of the rule of law.
It is not possible for pro bono referral requests to be made in each case in which it would be desirable for a litigant to have legal representation. Referrals are made in cases where an issue or proceeding is sufficiently complex to warrant pro bono counsel, in order to assist the Court and/or a party or parties.
In deciding whether to refer a request for pro bono assistance the Court may take into account any matter which it considers relevant in the administration of justice, including:
- the financial means of the party;
- the capacity of the party to otherwise obtain legal assistance;
- the nature, subject matter and complexity of the proceedings;
- whether it is appropriate for a barrister to act for the client on a direct access basis or whether an instructing solicitor would be required;
- whether the litigant involved is a person subject to a vexatious proceedings order under s 102QB of the Family Law Act 1975 or like legislation; and
- any other matter the Court considers appropriate.
The Court will not refer a request where, taking into consideration the aims and sustainability of the volunteer scheme, it would be unfair or impractical to ask a legal practitioner to act for or represent a litigant in a matter without remuneration.