This website is for use by legal professionals (lawyers and law practices) only. If the information is used incorrectly, you could risk losing money or your legal rights. If you are a member of the public looking for free advice about your legal problems please visit, or contact our Legal Help advice line on 1300 792 387, Monday to Friday from 8 am to 6 pm. 

If you decide to use or rely on the information or make decisions based on the information in this website (which VLA does not recommend) VLA is not liable to you or any third party in any way for any loss, damage, costs or expenses you or they may suffer or incur as a result.

How VLA can help with prisoner contact with children

How VLA can help with prisoner contact with children.

Prisoner legal help (PLH) is a pilot service at Victoria Legal Aid (VLA). The service currently supports prisoners at the following prisons:

  • Dame Phyllis Frost Centre
  • Loddon/Middleton
  • Metropolitan Remand Centre
  • Port Phillip Prison
  • Ravenhall.

The service may assist with legal issues such as:

  • new criminal charges
  • calling in fines
  • family violence intervention orders, divorce or legal questions about contact and other issues with children
  • outstanding tenancy issues, visa cancellation, Centrelink or child support.

Any calls from other prisons are currently being handled by the Legal Help line. Legal Help staff should handle the call if a prisoner calls from one of the other prisons. Remember to ask the prisoner how much time they have left on their call. The prisoner will be able to see this on their screen.

How it works

The service phone number is *#18. Prisoners can phone PLH from any of the yard phones within the prison. Prisoners can call anytime between 9 am and 3 pm (except public holidays). These calls are limited to 12 minutes, although prisoners may call back after 3 minutes or at another time.

The prisoner legal help cannot contact prisoners.

Calls are answered by a Prisoner Legal Help Lawyer, who triage calls to work out the best response and to make referrals to other VLA teams based on the service guidelines.


  • calls to PLH are free and confidential
  • prisoners cannot leave messages and PLH cannot make call-backs
  • video conferences can be booked for prisoners who have communication barriers, including those who need interpreters. The prisoner will have to contact the PLH service first by phone using (using basic English) or with the help of another prisoner, or through contact from Corrections Victoria.

How PLH assists prisoners

PLH lawyers can assist prisoners with new legal matters. For example:

  • new criminal charges, including representation and grants of aid
  • procedural assistance for existing criminal law matters
  • calling in fines
  • family violence intervention orders
  • divorce or legal questions about contact or other issues concerning children
  • outstanding tenancy issues, visa cancellation, Centrelink or child support.

The service does not operate as a message service between prisoners and their lawyers, or other parties except in the case of urgent matters. The best way for prisoners to contact a lawyer who is already assisting them is for the prisoner to put the lawyer's phone number on their personal contact list.

VLA’s Legal Help gives free information by phone about the law and how VLA can help. It’s open Monday to Friday, 8 am–6 pm. Call Legal Help on 1300 792 387.

The level of help depends on the kind of matter and on whether the caller is a priority client.

Legal Help services include:

  • a triage service—clients are referred to the most appropriate service
  • general legal information—unless the matter is out of scope
  • targeted referrals both within and outside VLA
  • advice about legal procedure—priority clients in some areas of law
  • legal advice by phone—priority clients in some areas of law.

For more information about the kinds of matters where priority clients can get phone advice see Legal Help phone advice(opens in a new window).

Out of scope matters

For information about matters that are not covered by the Legal Help service see VLA Legal Help(opens in a new window).

Language line

This service is provided in different languages.

See Get help in your own language(opens in a new window).

VLA produces a range of legal information for the public. For information see 'VLA resources for clients' under this topic.

Legal Help Online provides online information, referral and booking tool used by staff at Victoria Legal Aid and community legal centres to find legal services in Victoria. The site:

  • helps lawyers to send out emails to clients with targeted information to help with their legal matter
  • matches clients with services based on their legal need, location and eligibility for services, and
  • is an appointment management system, that enables direct bookings to be made and SMS reminders to be sent.

See Legal Help Online (formerly Orbit)(opens in a new window).

To locate VLA services see Legal Help Online—Services

To access the email templates, see Legal Help Online—Info email templates (no replies)(opens in a new window).

Public law library

Our law library is the only specialist law library in Victoria open to the public. It has a wide range of resources in print and electronic forms, covering a variety of legal topics. The library is open Monday to Friday, 9.00 am–5.00 pm.

Staff can also search the library catalogue to access all books, journals, videos, reports and reference material held by the library, and networked CD-ROM services.

See VLA library catalogue(opens in a new window).

See also Library and research(opens in a new window).

The VLA Handbook for lawyers sets out how to apply for a grant of legal assistance and the guidelines and conditions of receiving a grant.


For a collection of grants resources and training materials see LawHub topic Grants of legal assistance.


Simplified grants process—Notes on VLA guidelines

Parenting orders where applicant in custody (6.2.2)

All family law matters must satisfy the Commonwealth Family Law Guidelines and merits test at the beginning of a matter and throughout the duration of a matter (see Parts 4 and 13 of the VLA Handbook).

Applicants in Custody

Before recommending assistance where the applicant for legal assistance is in custody, a lawyer should take into account all relevant facts in each case including:

  • details of the offences for which the applicant is in custody
  • nature of the charges (Violence offences? Sexual offences?)
  • length of sentence and anticipated release date
  • details of the victim's (age?, relationship to the applicant? offence against the child/ren or the child/ren’s mother?)
  • relationship between the prisoner and the children prior to incarceration.

When assessing the merits test, the lawyer must have regard to the nature of the relationship between the applicant in custody and child/ren prior to incarceration. The lawyer must form the view that the applicant had a meaningful relationship with the child/ren prior to incarceration and that contact would assist in maintaining that meaningful relationship.

For example, if there has not been a meaningful relationship between the applicant and child/ren prior to incarceration, it is unlikely that the court will find that any contact including cards and telephone contact would create a meaningful relationship. Assistance should not be recommended in this instance.

Location orders

Before assistance is recommended for a location order, the long term merit of the substantive application must be assessed by the lawyer based on the issues for consideration set out above. While the court may make a location order, VLA will only provide funding if the substantive children's matter satisfies the Commonwealth merits test.

See 13 Commonwealth merits test(opens in a new window).

A file note addressing the issues must be kept on file.

Adapted from Notes on the guidelines—Simplified grants assessment process(opens in a new window).

Length of contact with child and Referral to VLA family law practice

However, the length of non-contact also needs to be considered in the context of how long the prisoner has been in custody. For example, if the prisoner has been in custody for less than 6 months and is coming up to having had no contact with the child for 12 months, then most of the non-contact time was while the person was outside prison and could have done something about arranging contact then. In this scenario, the client is unlikely to have merit.

If, however the prisoner has been in custody for most of the non-contact period, then it is probably worth a referral to the Family law practice.

Intrvention orders

Whether the existing relationship with the child is to be maintained is the most important question. The presence or absence of an intervention order does not determine this. If the intervention order has no family law exceptions and the family law practice is assisting with the substantive parenting matter, they can also assist the prisoner to get the exception inserted into the order.


Family law referral checklist

A checklist to use when taking instructions from a prisoner involved in a parenting dispute.

See Family law referral checklist (docx, 127 KB)(opens in a new window)