LAUNCH OF COMMUNITY LEGAL GOLD COAST
14th JUNE 2013
The Hon Sir Anthony Mason AC KBE*
1. I welcome this opportunity to launch the Community Legal Gold Coast this evening.
2. Gold Coast City has a population of over half-a-million and yet there is only one community legal centre currently operating, compared with other cities in Queensland serviced by more than one such facility. There is clearly a need for more free legal services provided to the local community, especially to those who are particularly disadvantaged and underprivileged.
3. Community Legal Gold Coast Inc has been in planning for some considerable time now, spearheaded by members of the Sub-Committee of the Gold Coast District Law Association on Community Legal Services. Its establishment is principally to fulfil the Association’s Objects of (1) to offer free and accessible legal services; (2) to provide referral to appropriate agencies; (3) to raise awareness about social justice issues, and (4) to promote legal education, for the benefit of the Gold Coast community. The Association was incorporated on 29 May 2013 as a not-for-profit association under the Associations Incorporation Act 1981 (Queensland).In due course, it seeks to obtain membership of Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services (QAILS), to be under the umbrella of the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC).
4. Operationally, local practitioners will be invited to volunteer their legal services after-hours once a week at Robina Community Centre. They will be assisted by law students from the local law schools. Initially at any rate areas of advice will be limited to, e.g. family law, neighbourhood disputes, consumer complaints and minor criminal matters. It is hoped that service delivery will commence in the second half of the year. And for my part I would strongly urge practitioners to give consideration to offering their services to the Centre. I am confident that you will find satisfaction in it.
5. I take particular pleasure in launching the Centre because it is a “good news” story about the law and lawyers. Lawyers have had an unenviable reputation dating back at least to William Shakespeare’s famous (or infamous) line “Let’s kill all the lawyers”, a line which has been enthusiastically received over the years, except by lawyers. There are those who regard us opportunists who enable clients to escape justice by taking advantage of technical points. There are others who regard us as highly paid professionals who act only for corporate clients.
6. On the other hand, the emergence of Community Legal Centres across Australia, dispensing free advice to the needy and disadvantaged and representing their interests shows us a different side of the legal profession. I am acquainted with the work done by the Kingsford Legal Centre in Sydney (which is associated with the University of New South Wales) and the Blue Mountains Community Legal Centre in NSW and I cannot speak too highly of their work. A parallel development has been the emergence of the public interest advocacy groups PIAC in NSW and PILCH in Victoria whose objects are rather wider in that they have more scope for campaigning for legislative reform and judicial outcomes on social, economic and political issues.
7. The work of the Legal Centres will become more important as legal costs continue to rise and legal aid comes in shorter supply. Particularly in regional and rural areas, the Centres play a part in maintaining an all-important sense of community.
8. Another advantage is that Legal Centres provide valuable practical training for law students who are anxious to get experience of this kind. Indeed, it is not unlikely that experience of this kind will be required of law students in the future. The work done by Legal Centres is an extension of the pro bono movement which started in the United States and has been followed in Australia by both barristers and solicitors, including the large law firms.
9. So, in conclusion, I declare that Community Legal Gold Coast is duly launched and about to go into orbit.