David Clark | Issue 04

David Clark | Issue 04

Students and the law

You may know someone who works at the Dunedin Community Law Centre in Filleul Street. One of 24 nationwide, the Dunedin Community Law Centre was established in 1980. Close to 200 people volunteer there many of them law students at our University.

As the local electorate MP, I frequently refer students and other constituents there for free legal assistance.

Community law centres ensure equity of access to justice across New Zealand. And never has that been more important than now when the gap between haves and have-nots is larger than at any time since proper records have been kept.

You may have struck issues the Community Law Centre can assist with. The most common problems dealt with are unfair dismissals, tenancy disputes, and consumer issues. Close to a third of clients at the Law Centre are students.

Legal representation for those of limited means is vital to healthy democracy. So too is the role played by community law centres supporting submissions to the select committees that help write our laws. Ensuring all perspectives are heard as new laws are shaped means better law for our country.

Unfortunately, the future of community law centres is fragile. Following the partial collapse of an historic funding source in the Global Financial Crisis, community law centres have faced uncertainty.

Since 2009, the Government whilst lavishing praise upon the activities of community law centres has provided necessary top-up funding for one year at a time only. The exception to that being the most recent arrangement which conveniently pushes funding questions beyond the next general election.

But community law centres need greater certainty. A rolling triennial funding arrangement with annual reviews would generate an environment attractive to the core paid staff required for an effective operation. It would ensure focus on strategic planning, and the training of volunteers rather than on writing applications for grant funding.

Society benefits from an organisation with mandate and resources to deal with legal matters for public good reasons, matters uneconomic for any private lawyer to pursue.

Faith in the justice system depends upon equity of access to justice. Full stop.
This article first appeared in Issue 4, 2014.
Posted 2:59pm Sunday 16th March 2014 by David Clark.