The Hon. Justice Peter Almond's story
The Hon. Justice Peter Almond helped co-found the North Melbourne Legal Service in 1978. He has been a Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria since 2010, after going to the bar in 1982 and being appointed Queens Counsel in 1999. Justice Almond specialised in many areas of civil and commercial law, including administrative law, banking and finance, building and construction, commercial law, corporations and securities, telecommunications and trade practices.
Justice Almond volunteered at the Fitzroy Legal Service throughout his undergraduate degree in the mid-'70s, and it was there that he recognised a great need for an accessible community legal service in the North Melbourne/Flemington area, as people were travelling across to Fitzroy to access such services.
“There were a lot of single parents, and people didn't necessarily have cars – while getting across from Flemington/North Melbourne to Fitzroy may not sound difficult – it was for many,” explains Justice Almond.
“We had the idea to take the legal service to the community, rather than the community to the legal service.”
In the early days of the legal service there was no funding, but the Founders had a lot of community support as well as support from their workplaces.
“My employer allowed me to operate my NMLS files using firm resources during firm time – I would take the client file from the NMLS premises to work, do what needed to be done, and see the client again the following week at their next appointment.
“I made this arrangement with my employer to ensure that NMLS clients had the same quality of service as my other clients.”
Justice Almond maintains the importance of the work of CLCs in providing access to justice for those most vulnerable in the community.
“The CLC is within the community, serves the community, and is run by the community, meaning that it is intrinsically beneficial to the community. It’s the least intimidating way for many people to access legal services."
Justice Almond recalls one client in particular, who was a mother living on the top floor of the public housing in Haines Street, North Melbourne.
“She was unable to get hot water for her family during the hours of 6–9am, when all of the activity was taking place downstairs, and there was such a draw on water supply that no hot water would reach her floor.
“It was quite a satisfying task to try and get something done about that, and quickly. We wrote a well-crafted letter to the then Housing Commission of Victoria to explain the problem, and followed up very soon after with a further, more strongly-worded letter. Nothing seemed to be happening (she had even made complaints for months before she came to see us)."
A third, even more "robust" letter was necessary, which suggested that NMLS would take the problem to A Current Affair.
“Lo and behold, the Housing Commission moved into action and had some plumbing works done to restore hot water at peak times to all the residents of the top floor.”
40 years on, Justice Almond is enthusiastic about how NMLS has developed into what IMCL is today.
“I am absolutely delighted that it is continuing in its developed form. I am privileged to be associated with the history, with the other founders, and I'm very proud of everybody who has taken it on and become involved to ensure its continuity.”