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Just spaces: community legal centres as places of law
thesisposted on 16.02.2017, 02:55 authored by Harris, Bridget Amelia
Up until the 1970s, Victorian young people with limited capital were unlikely to be able to secure legal assistance. Traditional legal offices reflected and reinforced the exclusionary and rarified nature of the legal profession. In 1972, a coalition of youth and legal workers created the first community legal centre (CLC) in Australia as an alternative physical and ideological space of law. Intent on improving access to the law and outcomes for young people, they aimed to offer legal information, education, representation and advocacy to previously excluded groups. Forty years later, CLCs (free, independent, community-based legal services) continue to transform the legal landscape and the way Victorians experience the criminal justice system. CLCs can still be identified as distinctly different spaces of law and workers perform roles and offer services that other legal providers do not, as well as engaging in campaigns and seeking law reform to effect change. Workers have protected and promoted citizenship and human rights on an everyday, ‘street-based’ level and provided legal assistance to their communities through an array of channels. The many legacies of CLCs are enduring, but relatively few outside the sector will appreciate or credit the contributions of workers responsible for change. The stories of CLCs are largely untold, hidden in archives and the memories of workers. These are important accounts, which have been excavated in this qualitative study, through the compilation and review of hard-copy and digital archives and the collation of oral histories of CLC workers. Few accounts have been produced on (or by) CLCs and reviews have predominantly focused on practical operations. By adopting a multidisciplinary approach (utilising legal, criminological, sociological and cultural geography frameworks), this thesis assesses the roles workers have assumed and the places they have occupied. ‘Space’ is a forum where identities, ideologies and power are articulated and resisted and spatial structures are, in essence, representations of the world. For this reason, the concept of space provides an overarching framework for this thesis. By exploring how workers have created spaces of law to empower young people encountering police, both inside and beyond the confines of CLCs, this thesis offers a historic assessment of the Victorian CLC movement and its impacts. It investigates how CLC workers navigate and negotiate ‘spatial stories’ – dominant and alternative accounts of the policing of young people in public spaces – and the unique ways in which workers have intervened to redress the power imbalances that exist between young people and the criminal justice system.