Community legal centres mark 40 years as big challenges loom

Media opportunity:

  • Door stop with spokesperson and community lawyer Hugh de Kretser
  • 9.30am, Tuesday 4 December 2012
  • Outside Wheeler Centre, 176 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Community Law Australia has congratulated Fitzroy Legal Service, Australia’s first generalist community legal centre, on 40 years of delivering free legal help.

The 40th Anniversary will be marked today by a forum with speeches from Chief Justice of the Victorian Supreme Court, Marilyn Warren, and Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark.

Community Law Australia Spokesperson, Hugh de Kretser said the celebration marks a major milestone in the Australian justice system, but significant gaps and problems remain.

“Community legal centres were formed to address the lack of access to justice for Australians who couldn’t afford a lawyer. For 40 years we’ve fought to make justice accessible for everyone. Access to justice is more than access to lawyers, and we’ve always gone beyond just legal advice to fixing problems with the law.

“We’ve made significant progress over the past 40 years on whole range of issues, not only in terms of access to lawyers, but also making the law and justice system work better for people in areas such as debt, family violence, police accountability, sexual assault and more.

“Unfortunately there are still gaps and problems in the justice system.

“We released a survey last week that revealed that CLCs across the country are struggling due to lack of state and federal funding, with 91 per cent saying that funding did not adequately address demand and 72 per cent turning clients away in the last 12 months.

“Despite resourcing difficulties to meet demand, we have worked to improve access to justice and to ensure that people who cannot afford a lawyer are getting quality, free legal help at their time of need.

“Community legal centres are a vital and unique part of the Australian legal system with over 6,000 volunteers helping our staff deliver around half a million services each year.

“Justice should not be reserved for those with money and power. Community legal centres have always been about tackling the imbalance in our legal system and ensuring those in need don’t miss out. But centres need to be resourced properly to meet the growing demand for legal help,” said Mr de Kretser.

Download this media release (PDF)