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HomeOpinionEditorialEditorial – April 2013: Support for Community Legal Centres

Editorial – April 2013: Support for Community Legal Centres

In 1977 NSW’s first Community Legal Centre (CLC) was opened in Redfern. Redfern Legal Centre opened with just one paid staff member, but lots of volunteers with expertise, enthusiasm, passion, commitment and a vision to provide legal services for disadvantaged and marginalised people.

There are now 37 CLCs in NSW and most of them receive state government funding, or funding through the NSW Public Purpose Fund.

Due to changes announced by the NSW Attorney General, the Hon. Greg Smith SC MP, the funding of some services offered by CLCs is now under threat. CLCs are greatly concerned that the guidelines are unclear and somewhat contradictory.

One of the new guidelines says: “Funding may not be used for lobbying activities, public campaigning and providing legal advice to activists and lobby groups.” The original lawyers, law students and academics, social workers and community activists who set up Redfern Legal Centre understood the importance of access to legal advice not just for individuals but for groups working for justice in the community.

The SSH is concerned that this funding principle would restrict the work of CLCs, negatively affecting the community’s access to justice. We know that, as well as providing free legal information, advice and casework, CLCs also engage in law reform and advocacy work to change ineffective or unfair, laws and policies.

“Lobbying” means seeking to influence politicians or decision-makers on an issue – CLCs “lobby” politicians to fix unfair or ineffective laws, policies, and practices, particularly where ordinary or vulnerable members of the community are affected. CLCs also engage in law reform work by contributing to government inquiries and consultation processes, and by campaigning to raise awareness of issues.

Lobbying MPs and government agencies, running public campaigns and providing advice to those who run their own campaigns are all vital parts of CLC law reform activities.

CLCs must keep the right to advocate and campaign for change to address legal and social issues affecting the most vulnerable people in NSW. Raising legal issues with MPs and other decision-makers is hard, way beyond the capacity of most members of our community, particularly those living with disadvantage. CLCs play an important role in bridging the gap between their clients and law-makers.

 

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