ACT Attorney-General reveals benefits of law reforms initiated by a community legal centre

Simon Corbell, the ACT Attorney-General, revealed today that reforms introduced a year ago have allowed more than 3,000 vulnerable people to keep their driver licences, reducing their risk of job loss, and helping to cut red tape. To date almost $1million in fines have been recovered by the Government through the new process, with another $3.5 million currently set to be recovered under the new management plan.

The problems faced by vulnerable people who lose their licence because they are unable to pay a fine in full had been identified by Street Law, a program of Welfare Rights Centre. In November 2011, Street Law published a report about the negative impacts of the existing system of enforcing traffic fines.

The report outlined the fines system in Canberra, which did not allow people to pay fines by instalment, and automatically suspended peoples’ driver licences after 56 days. Once the 56 days had elapsed, a person could not challenge the fine in court or seek a court-ordered instalment plan. A person’s licence simply remained suspended until they could pay the fine in full. As a result of the system, many people had their licences suspended because they could not afford to pay their fines.

In May 2012, the ACT Greens, with the support of the Government, passed new laws to address this problem.

This is a clear example of how community legal centres are often in a unique position to identify the impact of laws or processes on disadvantaged people. While there are many examples that illustrate the importance of this work, the ACT Attorney-General has produced concrete figures that illustrate the benefits of changes resulting from a CLC’s policy work.

Policy and law reform work by community legal centres can improve processes and laws, and prevent future problems arising. Governments and law reform bodies regularly seek the views of centres.

The ban on any policy or advocacy work with Government funding (by the Federal Government and some state governments) will stop many centres undertaking this valuable work. There must be a rethink.