On 1 July 2015 Attorney-General Martin Pakula announced changes to the pro bono conditions in the new Victorian Government Legal Services Panel arrangements.
In 2002 Victoria was the first Australian jurisdiction to incorporate pro bono conditions into its Panel arrangements. The original Panel was refreshed in July 2009 for a period of 6 years. The Panel has recently been further refreshed for a period of 3 years and 4 months. The request for tender was released on 1 July 2015 and closed on 30 July 2015. The new Panel arrangements will commence on 1 March 2016.
As part of this latest refresh the Victorian Government has taken the opportunity to make a number of changes to the Panel’s pro bono conditions. As part of the new Panel arrangements:
- the minimum pro bono commitment will be 10 percent (an increase from 5 percent). This is a mandatory conformance criteria;
- there will no longer be a maximum pro bono commitment (the maximum was previously 15 percent); and
- a greater focus will be placed on the role of community legal centres in facilitating access to justice.
- CLCs are now specifically mentioned in the Pro Bono Policy Guidelines, including in the definition of “Approved Causes.”¹
The Victorian Government has taken these steps to “strengthen pro bono legal services” in Victoria.
Earlier this year the Centre made submissions to the Victorian Attorney-General recommending that the new Panel arrangements be tied to the National Pro Bono Aspirational Target in the same way as the Commonwealth Government’s Legal Services Multi-Use List. There are 123 firms listed on the LSMUL compared to 20 on the Victorian Panel. The Centre’s submission was in line with the Productivity Commission’s statements in its 2014 Access to Justice Arrangements Inquiry Report.
The Productivity Commission recommended that the governments of Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia should consider adopting the Target into their tender arrangements for legal services.
The Productivity Commission also stated that:
If other large jurisdictions adopt the Aspirational Target [the Target], and firms in Victoria see a benefit from aligning the requirements, the Victorian government may wish to reconsider adopting the Aspirational Target at a later date. [emphasis added]²
For more information about pro bono conditions in government tender arrangements see the Centre’s website.