What are Community Legal Centres?
By Perry Katsanos, Solicitor, LY Lawyers
With the sweeping changes made to legal aid policies made by the Legal Aid Commission of NSW, it is now more difficult to obtain funding from legal aid in criminal cases. The role of Community Legal Centres has now become more prominent, with many of those who are not eligible for legal aid, and not being able to afford a private lawyer, now having to rely on their services more than ever.
The most significant identified barrier to obtaining legal assistance for people on low incomes related to the high cost of legal services. The operation of legal aid means test guidelines was considered to be a major factor in denying access to legal assistance for people on low incomes (including part-time employees, self-employed people and low paid full time employees) who could not otherwise afford the services of a private solicitor.
People on low incomes were seen as disadvantaged in terms of the level of legal assistance they could access, when opposed to litigants with significantly more resources.
Community Legal Centres (herein, CLCs) were established in response to the significant lack of access to legal services for a broad section of the community.
The genesis of CLCs in Australia started in 1971 with a group of MonashUniversity law students who established a legal advice service at the Melbourne Citizens Advice Bureau.
In 1972, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and Fitzroy Legal Service both opened, followed closely in 1973 by centres in Springvale, St Kilda, Broadmeadows and the Tenants Union. These were the first CLCs in Australia. In 1982, the first regional Victorian CLCs was established in Geelong.
Community Legal Centres in New South Wales:
Community Legal Centres NSW Inc. (CLCNSW) is the peak body for CLCs in NSW. They are resourced by a small State Office which is funded by the NSW Government and Public Purpose Fund. CLCNSW has 40 member organisations including generalist and specialist CLCs. The State Office plays a critical role in the law and justice sector in NSW. It supports and represents CLCs in a range of government and community forums. The State Office works closely with the NSW CLC sector to advance the work of CLCs.
CLCNSW itself does not provide legal advice to members of the public. The office is able to assist those seeking legal advice by referrals to an appropriate legal service provider.
How can Community Legal Centres help you?:
CLCs provide a range of free legal services that complement those provided by Legal Aid NSW. Legal Aid NSW is placed in a stronger position to provide quality legal services to far more people across the state by bringing valuable links to the community into its partnership.
CLCs are independent community organisations providing equitable and accessible legal services. NSW CLCs work for the public interest, particularly for disadvantaged and marginalised people and communities. CLCs not only provide legal advice and assistance, but also encourage and enable people to develop skills to be their own advocates. They promote human rights, social justice and a better environment by advocating for access to justice and equitable laws and legal systems. Centres work towards achieving systemic change through community legal education, and through law and policy reform.
Where is the nearest Community Legal Centre?
Sydney Metropolitan CLCs
Macarthur Legal Centre (Campbelltown) P: (02) 4628 2042 TTY: (02) 4620 0348
Mt. Druitt & Area Community Legal Centre (Rooty Hill) P: (02) 9675 2009 E: email@example.com
South West Sydney Legal Centre (Liverpool) P: (02) 9601 7777 W: www.swslc.org.au
Regional NSW CLCs
Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre (Lismore) P: (02) 6621 1000 or 1800 689 889 Tenancy Line: (02) 6621 1022 or 1800 649 135 WDV Advocacy Service: (02) 6621 1044 or 1300 720 606 W: www.nrclc.org.au E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here at LY Lawyers we are proud to have a partnership with South West Legal Centre and are looking towards the future for further partnerships with other CLCs.
Should you require a referral from LY Lawyers to any CLC in NSW, give us a call on 1300 595 299.