Free legal advice is being offered to veterans and their families wishing to testify before the highly anticipated royal commission examining spiraling military suicide rates in Australia.
- The new Defense and Veterans Legal and Service is being established across Australia
- It was launched on Friday ahead of the first public hearings of the Royal Commission on the Defense and Suicide of Veterans.
- Free service, the DAVLS is independent of the Royal Commission and the Ministries of Defense and Veterans Affairs
The new, government-funded but independent service is officially launched ahead of the first public hearings of the Royal Commission on the Defense and Suicide of Veterans which open in Brisbane on Friday.
An initiative of the National Legal Aid, Defense and Veterans Legal Service (DAVLS) is being set up by legal aid commissions in every state and territory.
“Sharing information with a royal commission can be a daunting prospect, especially when that information is a lived experience of suicide,” said Jasmine Stanton, DAVLS senior project manager and former defense member.
“Our service is trauma-informed, culturally safe and accessible. More importantly, it is independent and separate from the Royal Commission, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. “
In April, the Morrison government bowed to months of political pressure, agreeing to uphold the Royal Commission on the high rates of Australian veterans and servicemen committing suicide.
The wide-ranging investigation is being led by former New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas, who will be joined by former Queensland Supreme Court Justice James Douglas QC and psychiatrist Dr Peggy Brown.
Recent official data has revealed that more than 1,200 Australian Defense Forces veterans and serving personnel have died by suicide over the past two decades, nearly three times the number previously reported.
Ms Stanton told the CBA that the new legal department would help reassure some potential witnesses that testifying before the royal commission would not result in negative consequences, such as defamation or retaliation.
“We can also give some very practical advice on how to structure a submission because, at the end of the day, the people who engage with the royal commission want to make sure their submission is effective.”
This week, the CBA revealed that one of the Royal Commissioners, Commissioner Douglas, had recently acknowledged a potential conflict of interest regarding his ties to the national president of the RSL.
The royal commission said it will welcome members of the public to attend its first public hearings in Brisbane from next week.