Community Legal Centres - about justice, not just the law
Community legal centres (CLCs) are independent, community organisations providing equitable and accessible legal services.
They are of their communities and responsive to their communities. ‘Communities’ may be geographic communities, serviced by generalist CLCs, or communities of interest, serviced by specialist CLCs that target a group (e.g. children) or a particular area of law.
CLCs are able to offer appropriate, effective and creative solutions based on their experience within their community. It is this community relationship that distinguishes CLCs from other legal services. It is this community relationship that makes CLCs essential and vital organisations.
While providing legal services to individuals, CLCs also work beyond the individual. Community legal centres initiate community development, community legal education and law reform projects that are preventative in outcome and that strengthen the community.
The clients of CLCs are those who are facing injustice, whose legal problem is not profitable, and whose life circumstances are affected by their legal problem.
CLCs harness the energy and expertise of thousands of volunteers across the country. Centres are committed to collaboration with government, legal aid, the private legal profession and community partners to ensure the best outcomes for their clients and the system of justice in Australia.
In order to achieve their aims, CLCs deliver legal services through a variety of means including:
- advice and referral;
- legal assistance and limited representation;
- community legal education; and
- law and legal system reform activities.
The types or levels of service provided differ from centre to centre but may include initial advice, referral to private solicitors or other avenues of legal assistance, and help with the preparation of court documents and the provision of self-help material to assist people who need to represent themselves in court. Some centres also offer social work assistance. Some represent clients, but due to limited resources there are usually very strict guidelines about casework assistance – public interest and potential systems change are taken into consideration. Many CLCs produce self-help kits and booklets, and undertake law and legal system reform.
Community Legal Centres Queensland centres are either specialist or generalist.
Specialist centres offer expertise in certain areas of law (such as migration law) and provide legal assistance and advice for particular groups of people (such as seniors or homeless people).
Generalist centres offer advice and assistance in most areas of law for people living in a particular region, city or suburb.
Community Legal Centres give an initial consultation on most matters of law to any member of the community. All centres provide their services free of charge.
Community Legal Centres Queensland Centres offer a range of information and advisory services. Appointments are necessary for some services. Check the service delivery details for your local, regional or specialist Centre in the Community Legal Centres Queensland Directory.
Advice and Referral
After the initial consultation you may be eligible for ongoing assistance with the centre. Alternatively, your matter may be referred immediately to Legal Aid, a private solicitor or another non-legal service.
In a number of cases, clients are provided with legal advice or further assistance. Ongoing assistance and /or court representation is only available for people who are unable to afford a private solicitor and who do not qualify for legal aid.
All centres provide their services free of charge. If a centre does provide court representation or further assistance, you may have to pay disbursements (e.g.for expert reports) if a waiver cannot be obtained on your behalf.
The first Community Legal Centre (CLC) in Australia was Fitzroy Legal Service, which opened in Victoria in 1972.
Queensland’s first CLC, Caxton Legal Centre, commenced operating in a local ALP hall in 1976 and the first funding for the centre was provided by the Commonwealth in 1979.
In Queensland there are 33 CLCs. CLCs have been operating in Queensland now for over 30 years and have developed a unique and distinctive mode of service delivery.
All Queensland CLCs operate with a commitment to the following principles:
- providing free and accessible legal services;
- seeking legal and social changes to injustices and inequalities in the law;
- promoting legal education and encouraging communities and individuals to develop an understanding of the legal system;
- encouraging community participation to make the legal system more equitable and accessible; and
- encouraging community participation in the work and management of community legal centres.