Budget oversight leaves legal aid fuming

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Last night’s budget did nothing to address what legal aid has declared a funding crisis, leaving aid centres under funded by millions of dollars.

The Law Council will now officially launch a campaign on legal aid funding, with rallies around the country during National Law week later in May.

With the budget focused on growth and economic sustainability, Law Council president Stuart Clark said overlooking legal aid funding was a false economy.

“The Productivity Commission’s advice is that money invested in legal aid would yield substantial economic savings, a finding which has not been heeded,” Clark said.

“The ongoing funding crisis in legal aid means thousands of disadvantaged and middle Australians are having to represent themselves in court, causing untold stress and injustice.  Without legal aid, many Australians ignore their legal problems with devastating consequences.

“Successive governments have ripped hundreds of millions of dollars from legal aid, meaning many Australians living below the poverty line are now ineligible to receive it.  Even people facing the prospect of imprisonment if convicted may not be eligible for a legal aid lawyer.”

According to the Law Council, the government has completely ignored the recommendation of an immediate cash injection of $200m, for civil law matters alone. 

“Unfortunately, the Government has stood by cuts announced in the 2014-15 Budget, as well as further cuts in 2017, which will strip $12.1 million from community legal centres and $4.5 million from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services,” Clark said.

“In the lead-up to the election campaign we are calling on all parties to reverse these cuts and put an end to the legal aid crisis.”

The Law Council also expressed concern that the budget did nothing to address under-resourced Federal Courts.

“Failing to properly fund the federal courts, including the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court, has significant social and economic costs, which are felt throughout the entire community,” Clark said.

“Projected savings through amalgamation of courts’ administrations should be immediately reinvested back into the court system, which desperately needs it.”

The Law Council said in a statement that the cut to small business and company tax would be a positive change for law firms across the country.