The 2015 Community Legal Centre Fellow, Agata Wierzbowski, Solicitor at Consumer Action Law Centre, talks about her fellowship project and what she hopes to acheive.
My fellowship project is entitled 'Keeping them honest – how community legal centres can better use strategic casework to enhance institutional accountability’. Through the project I aim to review current strategic casework practice in Victoria and beyond, and reflect on what makes strategic casework focused on institutional accountability effective. La Trobe University will host my project.
Why strategic casework?
Strategic casework refers to cases that are intentionally selected and run as part of a broader campaign for systemic change. It can be used as a powerful advocacy tool, not only through the strict legal outcomes it brings about, but also through the public exposure of an injustice, or the raising of awareness about a particular issue.
If successful, strategic casework can result in reform that assists a group of people far beyond the individual involved in any particular case. Given the high levels of unmet legal need among vulnerable and disadvantaged communities, and the limited resources of community legal centres, the effective use of strategic casework has been acknowledged as useful work for the sector. However, there is often little time to reflect on how we are currently running such cases, and what more could be done.
With this in mind, the aim of my fellowship project is to investigate two broad questions. First, how do community legal centres currently run strategic casework aimed at improving business and government accountability? Second, how can we draw on the successes and failures of that current practice in order to do this better? My project will look specifically at how strategic casework can be applied to cases relating to housing, welfare, consumer debt, police accountability, and environment and planning disputes.
What will the project involve?
As part of my research, I will review current Victorian strategic casework practice. I will do this by meeting with community legal centre lawyers and other relevant stakeholders. I will also conduct a review of case files.
I will then travel to community legal centres across Australia – and to South Africa, Canada, the USA and the UK – to discuss how community legal centres outside Victoria structure and run their strategic casework.
Benefits for the community legal centre sector
I hope that through my fellowship I will be able to provide a reflection on current Victorian strategic casework practice to the sector, together with practical information on how strategic casework can be applied in the future.
How to find out more about the project
You can keep up with my fellowship by subscribing to my blog. In it I will share the progress of my research. Otherwise, if you are interested in this project you are welcome to contact me direct by email or call me on (03) 9670 5088.