In June 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) commenced its Shuttle Conference Pilot Program at the Perth Magistrates Court.
The model DOJ adopted allows parties to try and resolve their matter in separate rooms.
Sussex Street employed two duty lawyers to assist respondents with their shuttle conferences four days a week.
Between June 2021 and January 2022, the court listed two Shuttle Conferences (conferences) per day. The court then increased the number of registrars so the court could hear more matters.
The court now lists up to four conferences on Mondays and Fridays and up to six on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Covid-19 had a minimal impact on conferences because if court staff, parties or duty lawyers became ill, the court facilitated conferences via audio link. However, where necessary, the court adjourned conferences to later dates.
Advice and Casework Trends
Between 01/07/2021 and 30/06/2022, Sussex Street assisted 285 clients.
Anecdotally, most clients requesting advice were at risk of homelessness or became homeless because of the restraining order.
The court does not means-test parties listed for conferences, so Sussex Street assisted clients from various financial and socio backgrounds.
The majority of the clients Sussex Street assisted were once-off interactions. However, Sussex Street assisted some clients before or after their conference.
The assistance clients received before conferences included legal advice on the conference process and available options to try and reach an agreement at the conference.
Duty lawyers seeing clients before their conference allowed them to reality test the applicant’s allegations and confirm the client's core issues and what they wanted to achieve from the conference.
For example, parties may share children or property, so seeing the client before the conference helped the duty lawyer canvass proposals that could potentially form final agreements.
The court tends to make most restraining orders restrictive because restraining orders are designed to reduce contact and communication with the respondent to keep the applicant safe. However, because restraining orders are restrictive, clients could wait up to three months until their conference to negotiate a more flexible agreement.
Many clients thought conferences were a mechanism to resolve their legal issues and were surprised when the conference was only to resolve the restraining order matter.
Part of the duty lawyer role is to educate clients about registrar’s powers at conferences so clients do not have false expectations they can resolve all their issues at once. However, a client having the assistance of a duty lawyer meant they could possibly leave the conference in a better position than before their conference.
Some of the issues that compounded client’s problems included as follows:
Not spending time or communicating with their children
Not having access to their personal property
Not having the ability to resolve financial or property matters
Shuttle Conferencing Working Group
Court staff and duty lawyers formed part of the Shuttle Conferencing Working Group. Between June 2021 and March 2022, the working group met monthly. The working group agreed in June 2022 that the working group was to meet bi-monthly. In August 2022, the working group agreed to meet when necessary.
Interaction with RESTORE
Some of the clients listed for conferences contacted Sussex Street before their conference to receive legal advice on the process and request assistance at their conference.
A client contacting Sussex Street assisted duty lawyers in identifying unresolved legal issues and providing a wraparound service. Sussex Street would also refer clients to internal and external services for assistance with matters Sussex Street did not fund or were outside Sussex Street’s catchment area.
Collaboration with other Community Legal Centres
It was agreed at working group meetings that community legal centres funded to assist clients with their conferences would work collaboratively where there was a conflict. For example, if Sussex Street could not assist a respondent because of a conflict, Sussex Street would arrange a swap with other community legal centres.
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