In the 1980s, I worked with others to establish a self-funded legal service, to provide a mix of paid work, and free work to the disadvantaged.
All Australians can now choose who knocks on their door – thanks to the work of a CLC.
Sick of door knocking sales people? The answer now is simple. You can put a “do not knock” sticker on your door, and a salesperson who ignores it could be fined $10,000 – and their boss up to $50,000. Continue reading
For an example of the work CLCs do in the area of employment law, here is a story from Kingsford CLC:
Kingsford Legal Centre (KLC) has developed a strong relationship with Asian Women at Work (AWAW), an organisation which aims to empower Asian women workers. AWAW recently referred a 54 year old Chinese, Cantonese speaking woman to KLC for advice about unfair dismissal.
Our client was regularly bullied by a male colleague while employed and on one occasion reacted to his bullying and threw tea at him.
Two days after this incident our client was called into a meeting with her superiors where she was dismissed. Another Cantonese speaking employee was asked to attend the meeting to translate for our client. Our client was not asked for her side of the story and the word “dismissal” was lost in translation. Our client did not realise that she was being dismissed until a team leader escorted her out of the building.
We represented our client in an unfair dismissal application at the Fair Work Commission. Our client wanted to be reinstated. We successfully negotiated for our client to be reinstated before the matter went to arbitration, on the condition that she receive a written warning about her behaviour.
Initially, our client was reluctant to accept the warning as she wanted her employer to acknowledge that her actions were provoked by her colleague. We negotiated with her employer to re-word the warning to reflect the circumstances of her actions. Our client has since resumed her job.
CLCs across the country have written to the major party candidates in their local electorates ahead of Election Day in a quest for more clarity about their plans for access to justice in the community.
Legal problems can crop up at any time – but access to quality legal help shouldn’t depend on your bank balance or where you live.
Despite recent increases in funding to individual centres there is still huge unmet demand for free legal help among Australians who can’t afford to pay for a private lawyer.
Below are some examples of high demand and level of service delivered by CLCs to residents in their local electorates:
Last year SCALES recorded 1,162 requests for legal services they were unable to assist with due to lack of resources.
Gai Walker, Managing Director of SCALES, said: “The issues our CLC helps with are important matters that can have a huge impact on an individual or family’s stability, wellbeing and ability to participate successfully in society.”
Last year Peninsula CLC provided over 7,000 free legal advices, with ongoing assistance given in over 2,000 matters.
Jackie Galloway CEO of Peninsula CLC, said that even with substantial volunteer and pro bono support, they can only partially meet demand for free legal help.
“Sometimes clients are waiting for over a month for an appointment, and less than one in three clients are provided with ongoing assistance,” Ms Galloway said.
Last year Gippsland CLS had to decline a request from the Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court to attend an additional family violence intervention order day to provide essential assistance to applicants. The Service is also unable to extend the applicant duty lawyer service to the other courts in Gippsland due to lack of funds.
Jessica Brake, Principal Solicitor at Mackay Regional CLC said that usually they are booked three to four weeks in advance and that local demand for legal help was high.
“Marrickville Legal Centre has been providing free legal help to people who can’t afford a lawyer since 1979. We provide vital legal help to residents cross three electorates, and we are concerned that Access to justice has not yet been addressed in the local area,” Michael Walton, Principal Solicitor of Marrickville LC said.
To read the individual media releases by each CLC see below:
An all too common problem seen by some community legal centres is that of vulnerable – often elderly – people who have been coerced into signing up as co-borrowers or guarantors for loans for their children or other relatives.
Lenders usually benefit financially from the agreements. The lender decides that the borrower is a high risk – and isn’t prepared to take the risk of providing the loan. However, in these circumstances the lender is prepared to see a parent to take the financial risk – often by mortgaging their home. Some of these loans are business loans, and the risk of failure is high. The consequences of failure are that the guarantor or co-borrower will probably lose their home.
Caxton CLC has a specialist elder peoples legal clinic, as well as a specialist credit practice. It is therefore no surprise that these types of problems come to Caxton. Bridget Burton, the credit lawyer from Caxton, says that the centre receives so many requests for help in these types of cases, they are unable to help everyone who seeks help.
Judge Kingham recognised “critical work done by community legal centres” in a recent case where Caxton CLC represented two guarantors.
I’m not aware of the details, and my comments above may not apply in the case heard by the Judge. However, the guarantors had taken many years to purchase their house from the Housing Commission. Their home, adapted to the meet the special needs of the fourth defendant and their disabled son, is no longer at risk of sale.
Judge Kingham said: “The guarantors are not in a position to pay for legal advice. They have been most ably and generously assisted by experienced and capable professionals. This case is an exemplar of the critical work done by community legal centres and by the solicitors and barristers who offer assistance to those who cannot afford their services.”
By Carolyn Bond
We like to think of ourselves as rational decision-makers, but the power of psychological selling techniques can have a serious financial impact for many. Community legal centres that specialise in consumer and debt issues regularly help people who have felt pressured into expensive contractual obligations they can no longer meet – often when they had little understanding of the product. Continue reading
Tomorrow, Thursday June 20 is Community Law Australia’s ‘Day in the Life of a CLC’, an opportunity to highlight the diverse and important work Community Legal Centres do on a daily basis around the country.
Our day of action will showcase the work our CLCs do with photos and discussion of activities happening at local CLCs via social media.
Here are a couple of examples of what can happen in a ‘Day in the Life’ of a CLC:
In Victoria, Peninsula CLC, with other agencies, is holding a ‘Bring your bills’ day, where people can take their bills into the Chisholm Institute Atrium in Frankston for advice and help. Staff will be on-hand from 10am-3pm to help people manage their bills and deal with any problems.
In Western Australia, Bunbury CLC is celebrating its 25th anniversary on June 20. Excitingly, as of July 1 the centre will expand its services to Busselton, Margaret River and Narrogin to meet growing demand.
The Women’s Legal Service in Queensland conducts a phone advice line every Thursday, from 9am-1pm, to answer calls and offer advice to vulnerable women. Women often call with questions about family law, intervention orders, or issues to do with discrimination. In a state where family violence accounts for 44% of homicides, they do very valuable work in the community.
In New South Wales, the Consumer Credit Legal Centre provides both legal advice and financial counselling assistance for credit and debt problems. The Insurance Law Service, run out of the same office, provides advice and assistance with insurance problems Australia wide. This service expects to give 40 advices and 40 information referrals this Thursday, but demand is growing.
In Tasmania the Launceston CLC coordinates a legal literacy program that extends across the north east of Tasmania. Volunteers assist clients to fill out forms, explain documents and make referrals to solicitors when there are legal needs. They work closely with local providers to deliver this community service and will be holding a morning tea with Centrelink and Deloraine House to discuss new web tools and engagement mechanisms for clients.
This is an excellent example of the wider work that many CLCs do to ensure that there are strong links with other service providers in the community – and a case in point of programs that target rural and remote Tasmanians to increase their access to legal services.
Community Legal Centres across the country conduct activities like these every day – helping people stay on top of legal problems that can unexpectedly crop up.
What I have outlined above is just a snippet of some of the activity happening across the country on Thursday. To stay updated throughout the day, like us on Facebook and follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #unlockthelaw.
If you support the work that CLCs do in your local community, please take action to help CLCs to assist more people across the country.
By Carolyn Bond
By all means, share your story of how a CLC made a difference. Please remember, if posting about how a CLC has helped you or a family member, please refrain from mentioning individuals’ names or content will be removed.
Today, on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, the rights of our community’s older citizens are in the spotlight amidst a growing problem of elder abuse. Continue reading