Why we undertake law reform and policy work
What is law reform and policy work?
When individuals and organisations undertake law reform and policy work, they are attempting to convince the community and the government that a particular law or policy should be changed or that a new law or policy should be introduced. Law reform and policy work stems from the identification of particular laws, policies and practices that have an adverse impact on particular communities, organisations and/or stakeholders.
An important aspect of law reform and policy work is making proposals and recommendations on how the law should ideally operate. Law reform and policy work ranges from participating in government inquiries, public endorsement of the work of other organisations, forming law reform coalitions with other agencies, making submissions regarding a Bill before Parliament, initiating law reform campaigns through research and the use of media, and information dissemination via meetings, letters, fact sheets, flyers, newsletters and website information.
Why do community legal centres do law reform work?
Community Legal Centres (‘CLCs’) work to improve the lives of our clients and potential clients, who are some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Our clients include people facing multiple sources of disadvantage such as homelessness, mental illness and financial hardship. Since their inception in the early 1970’s, CLCs have understood that improving the lives of the disadvantaged cannot occur simply by providing individuals with legal assistance and advice. It requires an approach that seeks to address the systemic sources of disadvantage through community legal education and law reform work. In doing so, we are attempting to stem the source that causes the disadvantage in the first place. We aim to help a broader range of people more effectively through one law reform activity.
Our three broad areas of work - case work, community legal education and law reform - are interrelated: assisting individuals through case work enables CLC lawyers to identify laws, policies and practices that adversely impact their local communities and clients. One way of reducing the adverse impact of particular practices may be to educate clients and potential clients about their legal rights through community legal education. Another way may be to undertake policy and law reform work to address, at a systemic level, the problematic issues identified through individual case work.
Through community legal education and development, CLCs aim to empower our client base to understand their legal rights and voice their concerns directly to law and policy makers with our support. However, where an individual has a mental illness, has to focus on where they will sleep each night, or is under significant financial pressure, these circumstances often leave our clients with little time or energy to participate in democratic processes. Through our law reform work, CLCs seek to represent the voices of our clients and make their interests known to the broader community and law makers.
CLCs believe that law reform and policy work should not solely be within the means of well resourced corporations who can frequently lobby government to make changes beneficial to their interests. We firmly believe that it is the democratic right of people facing poverty and social disadvantage to be heard. Law reform work undertaken by the CLC sector has played a central role in effecting changes to laws that impact the disadvantaged, such as laws relating to infringements, family violence, discrimination, and credit and debt.
The role of the Federation in law reform and policy work
The Federation initiates and resources law reform and policy work to develop a fairer legal system that better responds to the needs of the disadvantaged. Depending on the issue, we may undertake law reform and policy work as the peak body or in collaboration with CLCs, partner agencies, academics and individuals. The Federation structure ensures that the client-driven work of CLCs across Victoria informs our law reform and policy activities. We develop strategic priority plans in close consultation with our members and seek feedback from working group members on our submissions to government inquiries.
The Federation’s structure also assists its diverse membership to collaborate for justice. Workers and volunteers throughout our sector come together through working groups and other Federation networks to exchange ideas and develop strategies to improve the effectiveness of their work. Working groups are supported by Federation staff.
How to become involved in law reform work
The Federation is currently seeking funding to produce a guide setting out ways in which individuals and community organisations can effectively undertake law reform work, so that we can share the knowledge we have accumulated over our 40 years of law reform and policy work. We are very excited about this project.
Tips for getting started include:
- Researching whether your concern relates to matters within the jurisdiction of the State Government or Federal Government;
- Accessing the websites of the Victorian Law Reform Commission (if it’s a State issue) and Australian Law Reform Commission (if it’s a Federal issue), and seeing whether those processes are useful for the nature of your issue;
- Contacting relevant State and Federal Parliamentary Committees that can undertake investigations into particular areas of policy and law;
If you would like to get involved in our work, please contact us. The Federation would appreciate your input because we actively seek to link up with service providers and community members when undertaking law reform work.
Justice policy platform and strategic plan
The Federation’s Justice Policy document provides a broad overview of our vision for how the legal system should be improved. The policy platform in the document has been endorsed by our member community legal centres at members’ meetings. It is a dynamic document which changes as member centres adopt and develop new positions.
|Justice Policy Platform - May 2013|| |
This plan outlines the key objectives and activities of the Federation Secretariat in Justice Policy for 2011 - 2014.
|Justice Policy Strategic Plan 2011 - 2014|| |