Villamanta’s main purpose is to make sure that people in Victoria who have a disability know about the law and can use the law to help get their rights. We work mostly for people who have an intellectual disability.
Villamanta usually only has one or two lawyers who work on individual cases. In working out who can get our lawyers to work for them, Villamanta thinks about the following things:
Our priority areas may change each year as we go through our annual planning process.
Some examples of current priority areas for casework are:
Problems we may be able to provide legal assistance with usually come within our priority areas (listed above).
We may also provide legal assistance in other areas if important issues of law are raised which are likely to affect other people who have a disability.
We do not provide legal assistance in instances when a person is likely to get better assistance and a better result from another lawyer or organisation. For example, in the case of a legal problem that is to do with a mental health issue, the Mental Health Legal Centre might be able to do a better job than Villamanta OR if the assistance is against a person who has a disability or group of people who have disabilities OR if there is a conflict of interest OR if we do not have the necessary resources. If we do not have the resources, people may possibly be placed on our waiting list.
If we are not the appropriate source of assistance, we will try to refer people to an organisation or person that may be able to assist them.
In collaboration with the Law Institute of Victoria’s Disability Law Committee and its working groups, Villamanta has worked on mental health legislation, Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) Guardianship List policies and procedures, Inquiry into Powers of Attorney, UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s review of the Guardianship legislation and the government’s response and draft legislation, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into access to justice in the criminal justice system for people with disability, the VEOHRC inquiry into experiences of people with disabilities in Victoria when they report crime, concerns with the Guardianship List of VCAT, Psychiatric Inpatient suicides, Coroner’s Court Restructure, review of the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness To Be Tried) Act 1997, the impact of cuts to Forensicare (the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health) on mentally ill people facing criminal charges, the Senate Inquiry into the Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of People with Disabilities in Australia, Disability Vilification, Interagency Guideline for responding to the abuse, exploitation and neglect of at-risk adults (IGUANA) and the abuse of people with disabilities in institutions.
In March 2017 Villamanta made a submission to the Productivity Commission’s Review of NDIS Costs.
Villamanta distributes its publication, People who have an Intellectual Disability and the Criminal Justice System: A Guide and Educational Tool for People working in the Criminal Justice System: Judges, Magistrates, Court Staff, Lawyers, Advocates, Police and Corrections Workers. This was funded by the Victoria Law Foundation.
This publication aims to provide a better understanding of the issues for people who have an intellectual disability to those working in the criminal justice system and help to ensure that people who have an intellectual disability are provided with the best possible and most appropriate treatment and assistance.
Villamanta has been actively involved in stakeholder forums organised by Victoria Legal Aid to improve access to justice for Victorian people, in particular those who have a disability and continues to collaborate with VLA in furthering this project.
Along with the Federation of Community Legal Centres, Villamanta continues to monitor the implementation and use of the Victorian Human Rights Charter. Villamanta’s lawyers continue to use Charter arguments in their casework matters whenever possible.
Villamanta, in collaboration with many of its colleague organisations, continues to lobby for the introduction of a national Charter of Human Rights for Australia.
Villamanta is a participant in the Shut In Campaign, coordinated by People With Disability Australia, aimed at ending the institutionalisation of people who have a disability.
Villamanta continues to actively monitor the Victorian Child Protection legislation, in particular, aspects of it which are likely to be detrimental to parents who have a disability.
Villamanta continues to monitor and give input regarding the implementation of the Disability Act 2006 and will pursue desired amendments. Villamanta is continuing to educate constituents about the system and assist them to access it.
The Disability Services Commissioner, appointed under the Disability Act 2006, is the main point for complaints from Victorian people who have a disability about disability services. Villamanta continues to support constituents to learn about and use the complaints system. Villamanta has met with Commission staff on a number of occasions and provided feedback on how the legislation and system are working and shall continue to do so. It also lobbies for appropriate improvements to the system.
Villamanta has supported a number of clients to access the Commissioner’s complaints system during the reporting period. The Commissioner is also now the complaints body for Victorian people wishing to complain about disability services that are funded under the NDIS.
Villamanta continues to monitor the work of the Senior Practitioner (Disability), another position set up under the Disability Act 2006. The Senior Practitioner, located in the Office of Professional Practice, is generally responsible for ensuring that the rights of people who are subject to restrictive interventions and compulsory treatment are protected, that appropriate standards are complied with in relation to restrictive interventions and compulsory treatment, and best practice followed by disability service providers.
Villamanta continues to have ongoing involvement with the Victorian Office for Disability and its work to bring about a “whole of government” approach to disability issues in Victoria.
Villamanta took an active part in the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s review of the laws in Victoria about Guardianship and Administration. These laws are very important to our constituents because they can be used to take away people’s rights to make their own decisions. We will monitor the implementation and effect of the new legislation when it eventually comes into effect.
Villamanta worked with its advocacy and legal sector colleagues to prepare for the advent of the NDIS (formerly DisabiltyCare Australia). The commencement of pilot programs in launch sites in a number of states – including the Barwon region in Victoria – have been extremely heartening to all those who have been campaigning for this for so long.
Along with its advocacy and legal sector colleagues, Villamanta will continue to assist constituents to understand and access the scheme, and will monitor and provide feedback during the pilot phase and once it is finally fully up and running throughout Victoria.
Villamanta is an active member of the Inclusive Education Alliance which is facilitated by STAR and is a group of individuals and organisations from the education and disability advocacy fields, committed to the promotion of “Inclusion for all” in the education of students with disability in Victorian education. We continue to see many cases of students with a disability not receiving the appropriate support required for them to be truly included in their school.
Villamanta worked to oppose the previous Victorian Government’s efforts to greatly increase the fees of people who live in community residential units. It was planned to make people living in these houses pay 75% of their Disability Support Pension and 100% of their rental assistance. This would have been a cruel and intolerable imposition on the lives of Victoria’s most vulnerable citizens. VALID, and many people who have a disability and their families and advocates, united in a campaign to oppose this, and Villamanta provided legal advice and representation at VCAT with a successful outcome. We will continue to monitor for any further developments in this matter and take appropriate action if required.