Community Legal Centres: working in the public interest


Media Release 20 December 2012

CLCNSW welcomes the statement today by the NSW Attorney General Greg Smith SC that funding for legal services should be directed to those who cannot afford legal advice and for matters which are in the public interest. For over 40 years, Community Legal Centres (CLCs) have been providing services to people who have been shut out of the legal system. People who are experiencing housing issues, have a disability or are attempting to escape family violence have all benefitted from the work CLCs do.

Alastair McEwin, Director of CLCNSW, said: “The Attorney General has said the new funding guidelines for the NSW Public Purpose Fund (PPF) will enhance the focus on CLC services for those who are disadvantaged. CLCs are at the forefront of working with those who are most disadvantaged in the community, as well as taking on matters in the public interest. They provide a holistic service, which includes free legal information, advice and strategic casework. They provide legal information in plain English to members of the community to help them better understand the law. CLCs are able to give a voice to the voiceless and empower the disempowered.”

CLCs also undertake law reform work and provide, when requested, advice to government on laws and policy; for example, CLCs have worked with government to develop a National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children. This collaborative work is vital and helps ensure that the barriers to justice experienced by many of the most vulnerable members of our community are addressed.

In 2011-12, CLCs in NSW provided 56,000 instances of legal advice. Even with this high volume of work, the demand for the services of CLCs is so great that many centres report having to turn people away.

Mr McEwin went on to say: “Funding from the PPF enables the already poorly-resourced CLCs to provide essential services. This funding is used, for example, to provide court support at Children’s Courts, outreach clinics for homeless people and for people living in remote and regional NSW, and supports the Aboriginal Legal Access Program. I am greatly concerned that any loss, reduction or diversion of this funding would jeopardise these and other PPF-funded programs.”