Community Law has been in Aotearoa New Zealand since 1978, with the establishment of the Grey Lynn Neighbourhood Law Office in Auckland. Over the next few years, other Community Law Centres established themselves in their local communities, and based their work entirely on the needs and demands of these communities. Many had no paid staff and were run entirely by volunteer lawyers and law students, who saw the dramatic level of unmet legal need in this country and decided to do something about it. The early Community Law Centres were the result of students and the legal profession and the community working together.
In 1984 the centres formed the Coalition of Community Law Centres Aotearoa, to act as an umbrella body for most centres. This coincided with the first definite decision by the then-Department of Justice to provide funding for all CLCs. The coalition, governed by the day-to-day managers of CLCs, initially met only to discuss funding issues. Soon discussions turned to wider issues and the meetings grew from one-day meetings into hui lasting days, usually held on marae.
Our annual three-day hui is now a treasured feature of the Community Law calendar – a chance for us to take stock and refocus our energy toward providing real access to justice in Aotearoa.
In 1991, CLCs received statutory recognition, in the form of the Legal Services Act 1991. Since then, the law governing Community Law and the broader legal aid scheme has changed. The most recent change has been the introduction of the Legal Services Act 2011, which has brought some dramatic changes to the Community Law landscape.
In order to navigate the new landscape of vulnerable funding and competitive bidding for government contracts, Community Law decided in 2011 to form a new national body, with an independent board, and a separate staff. This body, Community Law Centres o Aotearoa (CLCA), is now up-and-running.