The Community Legal Sector in Western Australia and around Australia is mourning the loss of one of our champions, Karen Merrin.

Karen passed away on Monday morning after a long battle with cancer.

She commenced work as an advocate in the sector at the Welfare Rights and Advocacy Service in 1994.

Karen was the project officer responsible for the establishment of the Northern Suburbs Community Legal Centre (NSCLC) in Mirrabooka and was appointed as the inaugural manager in 1996. She stayed with NSCLC until her retirement a few weeks ago.

During her tenure at the NSCLC it has grown from very modest beginnings over the last 23 years to be a thriving community legal service assisting thousands of community members every year from three centres – Mirrabooka, Joondalup and in the North East Corridor, employing over 20 staff and providing a broad range of community legal services.

Karen was an innovator, designing and delivering new services to meet their clients’ needs. She was an advocate for building strong networks and partnerships with the community, community organisations and all levels of government. Karen believed that better results were achieved for clients and the community by working collaboratively.

Through collaborative partnerships and advocacy Karen was involved in:

  • establishing the Tenants Advice Service, and subsequently, Tenancy WA;

  • establishing the opportunity for law students to undertake a community law course and spend time working in the centre;

  • developing a Special Domestic Violence/Health Justice Partnership in the North East Corridor (one of the first of its kind in Australia);

  • establishing the first senior rights service in Western Australia;

  • establishing the OPPES (older persons peer education service);

  • establishing the Women’s Law Centre (following the defunding of the original Women’s Legal Service);

  • establishing with WRAS, the Employment Law Centre;

  • establishing the Goldfields Community Legal Centre;

  • assisted in the development of the Wheatbelt Community Legal Centre;

  • establishing the Family Relationship Centre in Joondalup;

  • developing online resources for newly arrived migrants and refugees;

  • coordinating the Purple Road community awareness campaign.

Karen led the sector as the Chair of the WA Community Legal Centres Association for nearly a decade (2005 – 2014) and played an important role in the National Association. She leaves a significant legacy in the Australian community legal sector.

Karen was always willing to share knowledge and resources. She was a mentor to many within the sector. Her empathy for people and her passion to assist people, all people, to live their lives as successfully as possible were the hallmarks of her character.

We had the privilege to work with her and we will miss her.

We would like to express our condolences to Karen’s family and many friends.