: Forty years of the Alternative Law Journal

Forty years of the Alternative Law Journal

Stephen Keim

In 1974, the Legal Service Bulletin commenced publication as a voice of Fitzroy Legal Service. It quickly became a voice that went well beyond even the community legal service movement as a whole. I still had two full-time and two part-time years of my Arts/Law degree to go.

In Queensland, January 1974 is remembered for the Australia Day floods.

Twelve months later, on the same weekend, Denise and I got married.

The Family Law Act commenced on 1 January 1976. That was the year I commenced my articles of clerkship. 1976 was also the year that the Baroona Legal Service, later Caxton Street Legal Service, later again and still, Caxton Legal Service, commenced operations in the Baroona Hall at the top of Caxton Street near its corner with Petrie Terrace.

I was an early volunteer at Caxton. The big old Baroona Hall was a great place to give legal advice to whoever came in the door. It had strong historical connections with labour and community groups. Emerging punk bands played there on a Saturday night. Their audiences were frequently harassed by police. For the seventies and eighties were ground zero Bjelke-Petersenism. The politicians ran a police state and, as it turned out, both the police and the politicians were corrupt.

The permanent staff of Caxton worked upstairs in the hall loft. And that was where our management committee meetings were also held.

It was a good era to be part of the community legal service movement.

Our first daughter, Lauren, was born in September 1979. When Lauren was still a wee baby, Denise would pick me up by driving to the top of Gregory Terrace. It was about a kilometre from Baroona Hall. My walk along Petrie Terrace towards the Normanby took me past the Arts Theatre and the Arts Restaurant. I always felt a bit like the Little Match Girl as, having spent two hours dispensing free legal advice, I then walked past the revelling diners at the restaurant.

I don’t remember when I first subscribed to the Legal Service Bulletin but I do remember reading it religiously. I also remember submitting some early articles for publication. Noel Nunan, one of the two founders of Caxton (along with Lorenzo Boccabella), before he went to the Bar and became a magistrate, was Queensland editor of the Bulletin. He was a good proofreader and editor and was not afraid to make suggestions for change when he saw fit. He pointed out that I regularly confused the prepositions that were part of “in respect of” and “with regard to”.

But Noel accepted my articles. The Legal Service Bulletin was one of the first outlets to publish my writing.

I think that I was just one of many young and aspiring lawyers with things to say about our law and our time who were encouraged by the Bulletin to put those thoughts on paper for a wider audience.

During May 1985, the SEQEB dispute took place in Queensland. The premier and his government were at pains to break the strong electrical trade union. Emergency services legislation, a lock out and a scab in-house trade union were all enlisted to the cause.

The Council for Civil Liberties organised legal observers at the pickets. It was in this context that I came to a conclusion that my social activism would find a better environment at the Bar.

On 3 July 1989, Commissioner Tony Fitzgerald had delivered a report that exposed the corruption that lay behind Queensland’s police state. In December that year, Wayne Goss, who had been president of the Caxton management committee, a few years earlier, was elected premier of Queensland. The values for which the community legal service movement had battled had triumphed in Queensland — something that I, and others, had for many years thought impossible.

The Bulletin changed its name to the Alternative Law Journal in 1992. By then, I had been appointed president of the Legal Aid Commission in Queensland.

As well as proudly publishing the Journal for forty years, the Legal Service Bulletin Cooperative, through its imprint, Justice Press, now publishes monographs such as Jeff Giddings’ wonderful Promoting Justice through Clinical Legal Education. I was lucky enough to be at the launch of Jeff’s long awaited, but extraordinarily informative, study of the clinical education movement.

And, so, forty years have flown: for the Bulletin/Journal and for many of us who have sailed with her.

But, as Allan Ardill and Kate Galloway’s article in the current edition shows, no bad idea is ever dead. The police state has returned to Queensland.

It seems there will never be an end to the need for

institutions that fight for justice. Here’s to another forty years of activism with the Alternative Legal Journal at its heart.


Angourie, 6 January 2014

(2014) 39(1) AltLJ 2
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