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From humble beginnings

Women’s Legal Service Queensland (WLSQ) was formed in 1984 after a meeting of committed women from a mix of welfare and legal backgrounds identified the need for a free service that would respond to legal issues affecting women in Queensland. Women’s experience of the legal system was often distinctly different to that of men with women more likely to be primary carers of children, to be financially dependent on partners, and more likely to have experienced domestic and family violence and sexual assault.

WLSQ began as a volunteer service offering telephone legal advice one evening per month, and support from a room on the verandah at Women’s House Shelter at West End. Even at this formative stage of the Service’s development, there was a strong emphasis on a holistic approach to responding to women’s legal issues – with lawyers and support workers operating as a team. A multi-disciplinary model of social work, counselling and legal practice remains in our current service delivery.


Demand for the service grew and in 1986, WLSQ received funding to employ a part-time coordinator. Over the coming years, the service received state government funding to employ the first full-time solicitor and coordinator, Zoe Rathus.

Following this, a small legal team and social worker were employed who provided a strong voice for clients as well as systems and law reform.


Supporting vulnerable people to access social and legal justice systems is at our core. Women in prison commonly experience multiple forms of disadvantage and a high proportion are victim-survivors of domestic and family violence and/or sexual assault.

In 1987, WLSQ solicitors began their first visits to the women’s prison, an outreach service that continues today. This service focused on the range of family-related issues that are faced by women in custody rather than criminal law matters. During this time WLSQ auspiced the establishment of Sisters Inside and the peak body QAILs (now Community Legal Centres Queensland).

At the time of our establishment, telephone legal advice was regarded as quite radical. Despite this, WLSQ recognised that many women had issues accessing the service for face-to-face appointments for a range of reasons including child care, domestic and family violence, disability or because they lived in a rural, regional or remote part of Queensland. The telephone was the only means for many women to access the service and it remains the foundation of our service delivery today.

Over time it became apparent that the majority of women sought advice about their experiences of domestic and family violence, family law matters, child protection and sexual assault. In response to this, and to best utilise our finite resources, the service moved to providing specialist advice in these areas. We also work closely with other community legal centres, service providers and private lawyers to provide appropriate referrals for women who require advice in areas outside our expertise.


WLSQ was founded on a commitment to advancing women’s legal rights, access to justice education, advocacy and collaboration through community legal education projects. The Service continues to deliver accessible legal resources to inform and empower service providers and victim survivors. WLSQ has also been involved in many advocacy projects. For example, in 1993 the Service developed the Process for Protection that established specialist support for women experiencing domestic and family violence when applying for domestic violence protection orders. The reform was extremely significant and informed further reform.

Law reform informed by client and lived experience has been central to the work of WLSQ. In the mid 1980’s, the developing Service became involved in the case of Beryl Birch and a public campaign about the inadequacy of the self-defence laws in Queensland for women who killed a violent partner in the face of life threatening violence. This campaign continued throughout the 1990s with WLSQ involved in advocacy around other high profile cases such as R v Stevenson and R v Kina.

1996 – 2019

In 1996, after a long period of searching and finance negotiations, WLSQ made the significant decision to purchase a property on Ipswich Road, Annerley. The building has a history of women helping women having previously homed a hospice for war widows operated by a dedicated mother and daughter. The building has been a welcoming environment for women and a stable base for the organisation even in uncertain times.

In the early 2000’s WLSQ continued to advocate for clients and engage in state and federal law reform. The service began implementing technology eventually moving away from the volumes of paper-based booking diaries and intake forms to digital systems.

2011 was a particularly challenging year with the Queensland floods and funding pressures. Due to a change in funding contracts WLSQ was facing a significant reduction to service delivery – meaning women in need of help would be turned away due to service cuts. This marked the beginning of our coordinated campaigns of awareness raising of the impacts of domestic and family violence and the essential role of free legal and social work assistance in protecting women and children. The statewide campaign was successful and funding was granted.

The service has continued to supplement government funding through increased pro-bono, corporate and community support. We are extremely grateful that support has grown year on year across diverse sectors and communities.

This period also marked a time of service review, impact evaluation and planning. An independent evaluation found an alarming proportion of women reaching out for help could not be assisted through the then WLSQ systems. With the generous support from philanthropic foundations, a service evaluation was undertaken with the key recommendation to develop a Statewide Helpline for women with a particular focus on rural and regional pathways. A founding supporter program was established and our Statewide Helpline was launched within 18 months.

The Helpline transformed women’s access to justice through a triaging and escalation system linking in with all aspects of WLSQ service delivery (including the scheduling of appointments with our highly skilled volunteer lawyers located throughout Queensland).

2015 onwards brought a time of significant growth for WLSQ with successful funding of programs including Health Justice Partnerships (delivering legal assistance to women at risk in health care settings), Domestic Violence Duty Lawyer Services, outreach programs and High Risk Domestic Violence Units. In response, WLSQ established offices in Caboolture and the Gold Coast.

With staff and volunteer numbers increasing 2018, our Annerley location was in need of major remodelling. Significant support from the Gambling Community Benefit Fund and foundations including Clayton Utz and Hand Heart Pocket enabled WLSQ to undertake a major capital works project on the Annerley Queenslander.

Not long after this period saw the acquisition of a sister building across the road in Annerley. The building was remodelled to create confidential office spaces and meeting rooms, again with significant funding assistance, to support WLSQ service delivery.

2020 to Today

From 2020-2022, WLSQ pivoted with the far-reaching impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Of key concern was the confinement of women with people using violence through the periods of rolling lock downs and continuing uncertainty. WLSQ ensured continuity of service delivery through the implementation of online appointments (including our evening advice sessions). The earlier establishment of the Helpline (and associated infrastructure) ensured women and children continued to receive assistance during this time of extreme challenge.

In 2023 and beyond WLSQ remains committed to our mission of accessible legal and social justice for a safer future for women and children.

Many years on from its humble beginnings on the verandah of Women’s House, WLSQ continues to advocate for the rights, safety and justice of Queensland women, providing legal assistance to those who have experienced domestic and family violence, sexual assault or other forms of violence against women.

Today, WLSQ employs over 70 staff (both full and part-time), over 130 volunteers (comprising lawyers, social workers, legal, social work and business students) and is assisted by pro-bono, community and corporate supporters; all of whom are a core part of our service delivery.

WLSQ would not be where it is today without the legacy of our founders, past and present staff, board, volunteers and supporters.

WLSQ will steadfastly pursue a future where homes and communities are a place of safety for women and children. Thank you for sharing this commitment.

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