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Aboriginal Legal Service
21 Jul 2014
Published To

The roots of the Aboriginal Legal Service were in the response of Aboriginal people to police activities in and around Redfern at the close of the 1960’s.

In 1970, police were enforcing a curfew from 9:30pm onwards-targeting Aboriginal people in inner Sydney. Aboriginal people walking the streets in Redfern, Newtown, Alexandria and Chippendale were subject to arbitrary detention and arrest by police.

 There were many complaints of assaults in the cells. Aboriginal people were essentially at the mercy of the police and magistrates. While there was a limited scheme of ‘public defender’ legal assistance, there was no effective legal representation. Most people appeared unrepresented and simply pleaded guilty.

 Against this background, a group of young Aboriginal people including Paul Coe and Gary Williams attempted to organise a vigilance group. Their aim was to photograph and witness incidents of police arrests with the intention of passing this factual information to the media and government agencies. They wanted to stop repressive police action. They also spoke to students at university campuses and to trade union groups about the problems Aboriginal people were experiencing. At first there was a call to take on the police and ‘teach them a lesson’ in court. That gave way to a more constructive idea to establish a permanent source of legal advice and representation – an Aboriginal Legal Service that could tackle immediate abuses of power, and work to address systemic problems.


Today ALS is an Aboriginal community organisation giving information and referral, and legal advice and court representation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, women and children across NSW and ACT. 


They work in Criminal law, Children's Care and Protection law and Family law, and they provide information and referral for Civil law. They also assist with Work and Development Orders and Custody Notification. They have 23 offices and 187 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff across NSW and ACT determined to get justice for Aboriginal people and the community.

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