Community Legal Centre

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Australia has approximately 200 Community Legal Centres (CLCs)[1]. They are independent not for profit organisations [2] aiming to advance legal–and, by extension, social and political–equality by making the law accessible to the poor and otherwise marginalised members of Australian society. One distinctive feature of CLCs that also underpins their aspiration for equal access to justice is that they provide legal advice and traditional casework for free, primarily funded by federal, state and local government. Apart from these direct client orientated services CLC workers and volunteers are also active in other, diverse, areas through which they attempt to realise systemic change. For example, they lobby for law reform, undertake test case litigation, critique police powers and behaviours, monitor prisons systems and conditions, and develop community education programs. These programs may include anything from published books and pamphlets to radio programs and conference presentations.


Community legal centres emphasise the demystification of the law and the empowerment of communities in their relation to the law, particularly by encouraging communities to be involved in their activities.[1] For example, they often adopt constitutions mandating close consultation with the communities they serve, and insist upon harnessing the skills and expertise of ‘non-lawyers’ (e.g. social workers, administrators, or ‘everyday’ people with good communicative or special language skills) as well as lawyers. Additionally, their education programs are often preventative: that is, they aim to give people skills to solve their own problems without recourse to lawyers.


Community Legal Centres are partly funded by a complex and variable mix of state and federal government monies, offered both directly (e.g. through grants) and indirectly (e.g. through legal aid). They are also funded by the proceeds of casework. However, they rely most heavily upon the efforts and support of extensive volunteer networks. Without the willingness of both lawyers and non-lawyers to staff them without payment, they would not survive.


CLCs first developed in Victoria in the early 1970s, but spread quite rapidly through the other states. There are currently more than 160 CLCs in operation across Australia (Noone 2001: 132). Although from the outset they shared some similarities with the already established American and British neighbourhood law offices, in their insistence upon effecting systemic change and their largely voluntary support base they had characteristics distinct from each. They can be understood to have grown out of broader concerns for social justice that gained momentum in the 1960s and which found expression in the anti-war and women’s movements, aboriginal rights campaigns, and other pushes for far-reaching social change in both the Australian and global contexts (Chesterman 1996: 11-43). However, CLCs are a unique expression of these social justice and protest movements and do not claim particular ties to any other campaigns. Furthermore, while some CLCs have developed close links with others, centres for the most part serve their own particular geographic or special interest communities. This means that throughout their history different CLCs have usually held common platforms in only general, rather than specific, terms.

When the first Victorian CLCs were established, they were often resisted by a legal establishment that was defensive about CLCs’ criticisms of the elitism or inaccessibility of the legal professions, suspicious of CLCs’ aims and methods, and concerned about protecting profits (Chesterman 1996: 69-70, 77-83; Noone and Tomsen 2006: 73; Greenwood 1994: 3-5). However, soon after the Fraser Liberal government came to power in December 1975, some members of the wider legal profession had begun to acknowledge the importance of CLCs in improving the public’s access to the law (Chesterman 1996: 87). Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, CLCs consolidated their position in the Victorian and wider Australian legal landscape, forging (sometimes fraught) ties with different government and legal organisations (such as various state legal aid commissions).

Today, CLCs hold an established, if in funding terms sometimes precarious, place in the Victorian and wider Australian legal scene and have shaped the legal profession in various ways, although these are difficult to identify and quantify. For example, some larger Victorian law firms now permit–even encourage–employees to undertake some voluntary work, most often in the area of individual casework. This certainly testifies to wider community demands for adequate representation for all before the law, and to increasing pressures for law firms to be responsible ‘corporate citizens’, and the former development in particular may be attributed partly to the work of CLCs. However, the private legal profession has arguably been less responsive to CLCs’ attempts to bring about broader and more fundamental changes in the ways the law and lawyers operate.


CLCs are particularly varied and understanding their role in the fabric of the Australian legal system is aided by looking at some of the different examples. The examples demonstrate some of the niche area's where CLCs have evolved, often in response to a community need.

Australian Capital Territory[edit]

Legal Aid ACT[edit]

Legal Aid ACT was established in 1977 and provides legal information and advice to ACT residents on such issues as criminal law, family law and some civil law matters.[2]

Youth Law Centre ACT[edit]

The YLC provides free legal advice to youth aged between 12 and 25. It provides advice on many areas some of which include family law, employment and apprenticeships, criminal law and traffic offences.[3]

New South Wales[edit]

Arts Law Centre of Australia[edit]

Arts Law Centre of Australia (Arts Law) is Australia’s only national community legal centre for the arts. It provides free or low cost legal advice, education and resources to Australian artists and arts organisations across all art forms, on a wide range of arts related legal and business matters. Arts Law also has what's known as the Artists in the Black Program which delivers services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists nationally.[4]

Kingsford Legal Centre[edit]

The Kingsford Legal Centre has operated since 1981 at University of New South Wales, Kingsford as part of their Faculty of Law.

Women's Legal Services NSW[edit]

Women's Legal Services NSW promotes women's human rights by providing free and confidential legal advice and referral, creating publications and running training workshops (including online seminars) for community and support workers, and pursuing law and policy reform. The organisation specializes in domestic violence, family law, sexual assault and discrimination law.

Redfern Legal Centre[edit]

The Redfern Legal Centre was the first Community Legal Centre in New South Wales and the second in Australia.[5] Redfern Legal Centre provides free, confidential legal advice and casework, delivers community legal education and engages in law reform.[6]

Seniors Rights Service[edit]

Seniors Rights Service provides free, confidential advocacy, advice, education and legal services to people over 60 years old in New South Wales. [7] Its purpose is to foster communities where older members of society are aware of, and actively exercise and defend their individual rights in a society that respects and values older people and promotes and upholds their rights.[8]

Tenants' Union of NSW[edit]

The Tenants' Union of NSW was established in 1976 and is the peak non-government organisation representing the interests of tenants and other renters in New South Wales, Australia. It is also the resourcing body for the statewide network of Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services. [9]

Marrickville Legal Centre[edit]

Marrickville Legal Centre is a non-profit community legal centre that has been operating for over 30 years. It provides confidential, free legal advice and assistance to people living in Inner Western & Southern Sydney, and to young people aged under 25 throughout NSW. Marrickville Legal Centre also offers community legal education and advocates for equal access to justice and a better legal system for disadvantaged people through law reform. [10]

Northern Territory[edit]

Darwin Community Legal Service[edit]

The DCLS began in 1991 and seeks to help disadvantaged people resolve their legal problems by providing independent legal information, legal advice, legal casework and representation. The DCLS also provides community education on discrimination law, social justice and human rights.[11]

Top End Women's Legal Service[edit]

Founded in 1996, the TEWLS provides free legal advice, community legal education and advocacy on issues of importance to women across the Top End. The TEWLS vision is to provide access to justice to empower and assist all women in the Top End, ensuring they are not disadvantaged in the legal system. [12]

The TEWLS provides confidential legal advice in the areas of family law, domestic and family violence, victims of crime compensation, housing and tenancy, debts and fines, consumer law, superannuation and estates, employment law, sexual assault, discrimination, and complaints. [13]


Hobart Community Legal Centre[edit]

The HCLC started in 1985 with the purpose to empower people, especially the socially-disadvantaged, to have full access to law and justice. It provides community information services as well as legal advice.

Tenants' Union of Tasmania[edit]

The Tenants' Union of Tasmania is a not for profit community organisation offering free services including tenancy advice, advocacy and referrals. They also offer free community legal education and training in issues relating to tenancy. They are an incorporated body run by members through an elected Management Committee, and staffed by employees and volunteers.

Women’s Legal Service Tasmania[edit]

The Women’s Legal Service is a free community legal service based in Hobart but providing legal services for women throughout Tasmania. They provide confidential and free legal advice and referral on all legal matters including Family Law, Family Violence, Civil and Criminal Law, Estate and Property Law.

Environmental Defenders Office Tasmania[edit]

The EDO Tasmania is a non-profit community legal centre advising on environmental and planning law. Their aim is to increase public awareness of environmental laws and remedies, and help the community to secure a healthy, sustainable Tasmania.

Launceston Community Legal Centre[edit]

The LCLC was originally established in 1986 as the Northern Community Welfare Rights Service to provide free legal advice to anyone in the community. Some four years later the Centre became the Launceston Community Legal and Welfare Rights Services before settling on its current title of Launceston Community Legal Centre Inc. in December 1991. The LCLC is a 'not for profit' or 'non-profit' association.

Northwest Community Legal Centre[edit]

The NWCLC is an advice and referral legal service to residents on the North West Coast of Tasmania. Assistance and advice is offered in a wide range of areas and they also provide Community legal Education and participate in Law Reform.

Refugee Legal Service Tasmania[edit]

Refugee Legal Service Tasmania is a volunteer legal service dedicated to providing advice to refugees, asylum seekers and other humanitarian entrants who reside in Tasmania.

Worker Assist Tasmania[edit]

Worker Assist Tasmania is a free service for injured workers in Tasmania. The service provides information, assistance and advice relating to Workers Compensation, Return to Work and Rehabilitation following a workplace injury and the Asbestos Related Diseases Compensation Fund. /


The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex Legal Service Inc.[edit]

LGBTI Legal Services Inc was officially launched in 2010 by former Australian High Court Judge The Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG. LGBTI Legal Services Inc seeks to assist the Queensland LGBTI community in gaining access to justice through the provision of legal and social welfare services. It also endeavours to provide community legal education activities and resources in order to increase awareness of legal rights and responsibilities for the LGBTI community in Queensland.[14]

Robina Community Legal Centre[edit]

Robina Community Legal Centre (RCLC) is one of two accredited centres in the city of Gold Coast. Volunteer lawyers provide pro bono advice in family and domestic violence, consumer, debt, employment, tenancy, personal injury, micro business, immigration, crime and traffic offences. [15]

South Australia[edit]

Central Community Legal Service[edit]

CCLS provides a generalist Legal Service and initial advice and referral to anyone who lives in the Adelaide central metropolitan area. Ongoing legal assistance is provided to people on low incomes who are not eligible for legal aid.


Fitzroy Legal Service[edit]

The first generalist community legal centre to be established in Australia. The centre assists more than 3000 individual clients each year through its night legal service.

Consumer Action Law Centre[edit]

The Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) is a Melbourne-based Community Legal Centre. CALC specialises in Australian Consumer Law and as well as providing legal advice and casework they provide financial counselling services.

Tenants Union Victoria[edit]

The Tenants Union Victoria (TUV) is a Melbourne-based Community Legal Centre. As the name suggests, they provide specialised legal advice and casework services to residential tenants in the state of Victoria.

Women's Legal Service Victoria[edit]

Women's Legal Service Victoria offer free legal advice to women of disadvantage, assisting with issues such as protection from family violence, intervention orders, division of property after separation or divorce, and children's welfare. Free phone advice is offered to women, as well as free advice and representation in the Melbourne Magistrates Court. Legal representation is only offered in specific circumstances including; language difficulties, women with health problems or disabilities, homelessness, and long-term unemployment.[16]

Western Australia[edit]

Community Legal Centres Association of WA[edit]

The Community Legal Centres Association of WA is the peak organisation representing the 28 Community Legal Centres (CLCs) operating in Western Australia which provide free or low cost legal help to the community.[17]

Woman's Law Centre[edit]

The Woman's Law Centre is based in Perth and provides legal advice on such areas as family law, sexual harassment and sexual assault and divorce applications.[18]

Consumer Credit Legal Service (WA)[edit]

Consumer Credit Legal Service (WA) Inc. (CCLSWA) is a not-for-profit charitable organisation which provides legal advice and representation to consumers in WA in the areas of credit, banking and finance. CCLSWA also takes an active role in community legal education, law reform and policy issues affecting consumers.[19]


  1. ^ Paula O'Brien, 'Changing Public Interest Law: Overcoming the law's barriers to social change lawyering' (2011) 32 AltLJ 80.
  2. ^ "Legal Aid ACT - What We Do". Retrieved 2015-05-01. 
  3. ^ "What We Do". Retrieved 2015-05-01. 
  4. ^ "Arts Law Website". 
  5. ^ "About Us | Redfern Legal Centre". Retrieved 2015-05-01. 
  6. ^ "Our Services | Redfern Legal Centre". Retrieved 2015-05-01. 
  7. ^ "About Us | Seniors Rights Service". Retrieved 2016-01-03. 
  8. ^ "Seniors Rights Service Annual Report 2015-2016, P3" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-01-03. 
  9. ^ Admin. "About us". Retrieved 2016-06-10. 
  10. ^ "Home". Marrickville Legal Centre. Retrieved 2017-09-14. 
  11. ^ "Darwin Community Legal Service : Darwin, Northern Territory". Retrieved 2015-05-01. 
  12. ^ "Top End Women's Legal Service : Darwin, Northern Territory". Retrieved 2016-06-15. 
  13. ^ "Top End Women's Legal Service : Darwin, Northern Territory". Retrieved 2016-06-15. 
  14. ^ "LGBTI Legal Service". Retrieved 2015-05-01. 
  15. ^ "Robina Community Legal Centre". Retrieved 2017-01-01. 
  16. ^ "Women's Legal Service Victoria: Our Services"
  17. ^
  18. ^ Creative, Bam. "Home - Womens Law Centre - A community legal centre funded to provide quality legal advice, information and referral to women of Western Australia". Retrieved 2015-05-01. 
  19. ^
  • Chesterman, J. Poverty Law and Social Change: The Story of the Fitzroy Legal Service. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1996.
  • Greenwood, K. It seemed like a good idea at the time: A history of the Springvale Legal Service 1973-1993. Melbourne: Springvale Legal Service, 1994.
  • Jukes, J. and Spencer, P. 'Buying and Selling Justice: The Future of CLCs'. Reform 73 (Spring 1998), 5-10.
  • Nichols, David From the Roundabout to the Roundhouse - 25 Years of Kingsford Legal Centre. Sydney: The University of New South Wales 2006.
  • Noone, M. A. ‘The Activist Origins of Australian Community Legal Centres’. Law in Context 19 (2001), 128-137.
  • Noone, M. A. and Tomsen, S. A. Lawyers in Conflict: Australian Lawyers and Legal Aid. Sydney: The Federation Press, 2006.