What is a Community Legal Centre?
Community Legal Centres are independent community organisations that provide free legal services to the public. Community legal centres exist to enable a strong collective voice for justice and equality, using the law as a tool to achieving this.
The main areas of work for Community Legal Centres are: legal advice and casework, community legal education, and systemic advocacy.
Legal Advice and Casework
Community legal centres provide legal information, initial advice and in some cases ongoing assistance. Community Legal Centres focus on helping people who face economic and social disadvantage and who are ineligible for legal aid and cannot afford a private lawyer.
Each community legal centre has different eligibility guidelines as to who they can help, what legal issues they can help with and how much help they can provide.
Case Study - Central Highlands Community Legal Centre
The Central Highlands Community Legal Centre is a generalist legal centre based in Ballarat, they assist over 1500 clients a year, of whom 55% are women and 85% are low income earners.
A third of their caseload involves family or domestic violence, and nearly half of their caseload involves family law. As well as their focus on family violence, CHCLC helps residents with family law, tenancy, credit and debt, employment and consumer issues, powers of attorney, guardianship and welfare rights.
Community Legal Education
Community Legal Centres provide community legal education so that people know their rights and are better equipped to advocate. Across the state, community legal centres provide plain language legal education for schools, community groups and other organisations. They prepare, publish, update and distribute all manner of fact sheets, guides and handbooks that bring accessible legal information to the community.
Case Study - The Law Handbook
For over forty years the Fitzroy Legal Service has coordinated and published The Law Handbook. Published in hardcopy and online, the Law Handbook is a practical guide to the law in Victoria, it provides comprehensive information about the laws that affect Victorians in everyday life. The law handbook is an indispensable resource widely used by community workers, students, teachers, lawyers and members of the community.
Community Legal Centres fight for economic and social justice on a systematic level. Sometimes, the most effective way to address legal problems is to work towards changing unfair laws, policies or practices that are at the root of the problem.
This can involve public advocacy, community development work, contributing to law reform, policy work, strategic litigation and more.
Case Study - Police Accountability Project
The Police Accountability Project is a project of the Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre. The project combines advocacy, community education and strategic litigation to empower communities, hold police to account, and drive systemic change. The Police Accountability Project aims to provide justice for those who least experience it and by doing so hold police who abuse to account.
Case Study - Leadbeaters Possum Case
Environmental Justice Australia are currently representing Friends of Leadbeater's Possum in the Leadbeater's Possum case. In this landmark case Enviromental Justice Australia aim to test the legality of the native forest logging exemption from federal environment laws and enforce better protection for the Leadbeater's Possum under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The legal advice, education and systematic advocacy that Community Legal Centres offer is critical to a healthy, functioning democracy. Community Legal Centres are independent from government and corporations, are accountable to their communities, and stand up for people and causes that aren’t backed up by power and wealth.
Click here to learn About the Federation of Community Legal Centres.