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Research Report: By the people, for the people?  Community participation in law reform
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By the people, for the people? Community participation in law reform  ( 2010 )  Cite this report

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7. Civil society organisations in law reform

The range of knowledge and skills, as well as time and resources, required to participate in law reform means that individuals and governments often rely on civil society organisations (CSOs) to facilitate public and stakeholder participation. CSOs, including consumer groups, interest and advocacy organisations, professional associations, industry groups and peak bodies, play important bridging and linking roles in law reform.

CSOs come to law reform with different interests, resources, connections and expertise. For the purpose of this report we draw a distinction between industry CSOs and human services CSOs. Industry CSOs — that is, business, trade and employer associations — are often key stakeholders and regular participants in law reform. CSOs in the human services sector include consumer, interest and advocacy organisations, professional associations, service providers, charities, not-for-profit and non-government organisations, and peak bodies. We focus on CSOs in this sector due to their particular relationships with their disadvantaged constituents.

Among CSOs in the human services sector we distinguish between legal and non-legal CSOs, and consumer interest and advocacy groups from other organisations. Legal CSOs include community legal centres (CLCs), professional associations such as the Bar Association of NSW and the NSW Law Society, and other professional groups such as the Australian Lawyers Alliance. Although non-legal CSOs may have some legal officers on staff, or legal practitioners on their board of governance, they generally do not have express legal expertise nor do they provide legal services to individuals.

Consumer interest and advocacy groups are distinguished by being formed and led by people who often share particular attributes or the interests of their members or constituents. These groups often have direct connections with constituents or members and may have strong claims to legitimately representing their views in law reform. They are often formed and led by groups of socially or economically disadvantaged people and as such have a particularly important role in representing and facilitating their participation in law reform.97

Peak bodies are umbrella organisations whose members are CSOs of allied interest. For example, NCOSS is the peak body for the social and community services in New South Wales and its members include a diverse range of community based service providers, consumer organisations, support and advocacy groups, as well as individuals of disadvantaged communities. Peak CSOs are often funded by government, in part, for the purpose of helping to organise the interests within a particular policy sector, and often act as information ‘clearinghouses’ that disseminate information about issues within a particular sector. With peak CSOs tending to have closer links to government, and their member CSOs having closer links to constituents and communities, CSOs are a key bridge between constituents and government.

In this chapter we explore the factors affecting the ability of CSOs to represent, coordinate and facilitate participation in law reform. In particular we examine the role of CSOs in law reform, their law reform capability and its implications for their ability to represent constituents and participate in law reform.


Nheu, N & McDonald, H 2010, By the people, for the people? Community participation in law reform, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney