Fitzroy Legal Service under fire over East West Link lawsuit

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Herald Sun: Fitzroy Legal Service under fire over East West Link lawsuit. John Masanauska. 23 April 2014

The State Government has slammed a taxpayer-funded legal centre that is supporting a serial protester’s legal attempt to stop the East West Link tunnel project.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert Clark accused the Fitzroy Legal Service of spending too much time running political agendas rather than helping those in genuine need.

“Serial pests who habitually break the law should be held to account when they then try to use the legal system to pursue their obsessions,” he said.

The legal service is representing serial protester Tony Murphy in a Supreme Court case against the tunnel project.

Mr Murphy’s house is not affected by the planned works.

Last year, the legal service received almost $900,000 in taxpayer and ratepayer funds, including $500,000 from state agencies such as Victoria Legal Aid and the Health and Justice Departments.

But its executive officer, Claudia Fatone, said the service was incurring no out-of-pocket costs over the court challenge, and “our engagement will not impact on our service delivery”.

“Senior and junior counsel are providing support on a pro bono basis. We expect expert evidence will not be on a pro bono basis, and community support will be engaged in fundraising,” she said.

Ms Fatone said citizens had a right of access to justice and to the legal representation of their choice.

A federal Attorney-General’s Department spokesman said it was understood that no federal government funding had been allocated to the East West case.

“The Australian Government’s policy is that funding for legal assistance services should be focused on the delivery of front line services to disadvantaged individuals who need help to resolve their legal problems,” he said.

The Government has been accused of misleading conduct over the claimed economic benefits of the tunnel project.

City of Yarra mayor Cr Jackie Fristacky, who opposes the tunnel, said the council had funded the legal service for programs such as support for refugee students and a free legal advice service for vulnerable people.

“The Fitzroy Legal Service is an independent entity and is entitled to choose who it represents and what issues it takes on for disadvantaged and other community members,” she said.

A Victoria Legal Aid spokeswoman said her organisation provided about a third of the legal service’s funding but it did not play a role in determining individual cases that the centre took on.

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