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Community Legal Centres

Community legal centres began to be established in Melbourne in 1972, when lawyers, students and community activists sought to challenge the inaccessibility of the legal profession to people on low incomes. Fitzroy Legal Service was the first community legal centre to open, in December 1972, and it was followed shortly after by the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service in Fitzroy and by other centres in Broadmeadows and St Kilda. By 1982 there were over a dozen community legal centres in Victoria, and by the late 1990s there were over 40. From the early 1970s, community legal centres started to receive government funding, enabling them to employ staff, and they became integral to the State and federal governments' provision of Legal Aid services. At the same time, community legal centres, which rely heavily on the work of volunteers, have staunchly protected their autonomy from government legal aid agencies, and they continue to seek to address their work to the needs of members of their local communities. Aside from giving free legal advice, community legal centres have published legal information, publicised instances of police mistreatment of suspects, and lobbied for the rights of people on low incomes.

John Chesterman