2012 - Vol 37(1) - Justice for all

Alternative Law Journal 2012 - Vol 37(1) - Justice for allRevisiting Community Legal Centres

A question of rights

Practical law

A smarter criminal justice system: The role of Community Legal Centres

Hugh de Kretser and Michelle McDonnell
What is needed is a responsible, informed discussion on crime prevention and control. … The consistent knee jerk or politically expedient response … is not in the interest of greater community safety.

This comment, from a 1992 report by the Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria), still resonates today. The report, Who’s in Control? Victorian Police Expenditure critiqued a police push for increased powers and funding based on misleading police crime statistics.1 It examined police spending, new police powers to respond to claimed increases in serious knife assaults (which were proven false) and the media’s representations of violent crime. Twenty years on, the Federation and many Victorian community legal centres (‘CLCs’) are still promoting rational criminal justice policies, this time through the Smart Justice project.

(2012) 37(1) AltLJ 4


Just spaces: Community Legal Centres as levelling places of law

Megan Blair and Bridget Harris

In early 2010, the Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria) changed addresses. From its quarters in Melbourne’s left-leaning heart — Trades Hall in Carlton — it relocated to a multi-storey suite of offices in Melbourne’s central business district. The Federation had outgrown Trades Hall, where high ceilings create yawning spaces that co-exist uneasily with a warren of small interconnected rooms. A relic of an earlier era and different building codes, the Hall is cold in winter but boiling in summer. The new, more comfortable space is certainly less rough around the edges. It also places the Federation in physical proximity to a diverse range of other community organisations which rent rooms within the same building. Still, despite its many disadvantages, scruffy Trades Hall was an address that seemed in ideological sympathy with many of the equalising impulses underlying the Community Legal Centre (‘CLC’) sector. For this reason the move was an occasion for reflection and appraisal of the role that space plays in shaping CLCs.

(2012) 37(1) AltLJ 8


From maverick to mainstream: Forty years of Community Legal Centres

Jude McCulloch and Megan Blair
Radical Lawyer, by Bruce Tindale
Mick, this legal service you’ve started,’ he said, ‘It started as a maverick, and it just is getting so established and such a good name, you’ll soon be respectable.’ And I guess in a sense that that’s the way it turned out.

(Fitzroy Legal Service Pioneer, Mick O’Brien
 reporting a remark made by a friend about CLCs)

From their origins on the fringes of the legal community, community legal centres (‘CLCs’) have grown into a recognised and respected legal sector. This article examines the roots of the sector’s longevity, asking how it survived where its precursors proved short-lived. It argues that, aside from the dedication and talent of CLC staff, the key to their success lies in the social and political climate in which CLCs began.

(2012) 37(1) AltLJ 12


Are CLCs finished?

Simon Rice

Mid Life Crisis, by Jane CafarellaCommunity legal centres (‘CLCs’) have a justifiable sense that they were once a radical alternative to conventional lawyering but, to the extent that was the case, it is no more. CLCs are now reformers within established legal structures. CLCs also have a strong sense of independence — independence is ‘the very essence of what a CLCs is’1 — but to the extent that that too was the case, it is no longer, and the work of CLCs is now largely determined by the conditions of funding. Consistently reciting the mantra of independence, and taking comfort in the fading glow of a radical past, CLCs fail to reflect deeply on their contemporary identity and role.

(2012) 37(1) AltLJ 17


The future of Community Legal Centres

Peter Noble

CLC Fundraising, by S RothHow we understand Community Legal Centres (‘CLCs’) influences any conversation about their future. When they are seen as particular physical entities in time, the question is concrete — what will become of this or that service or ‘the sector’ over time? But if we see CLCs as a movement or a vision, then the physical constraints fall away and the emphasis shifts — how will the passage of time affect the motivating forces that has manifested as some two hundred or so CLCs across Australia? Do those motivations still exist? How will they manifest next? Could they manifest in entirely new embodiments of collective will that do not consciously identify with CLCs, or perhaps even want to? My interest in this conversation lies in identifying (and counteracting) those forces which inhibit CLCs from fully leveraging their comparative strengths and being effective and capable organisations. Engaging with these challenges head-on is not only critical to the future of existing CLCs: the challenges will pursue and may even stymie ventures that we have not yet even imagined, but which nevertheless embody similar visions for a more just society.

(2012) 37(1) AltLJ 22


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