Lawyers gather in Adelaide as legal assistance crisis looms

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Amid a burgeoning crisis in access to justice in Australia, more than 200 lawyers, judges, government officials, and academics have gathered in Adelaide at the sixth National Access to Justice & Pro Bono Conference.

"The legal assistance sector is currently in crisis," said Fiona McLeod, Law Council of Australia president. “A steady erosion of government funding over a generation has now produced a situation in which hundreds of thousands of Australians are being denied legal representation when they seek it.”

The crisis is even more striking given Australian lawyers’ efforts to step up and help.

“Australian lawyers are contributing a remarkable 35 hours of pro bono legal services, per lawyer, per year. But this cannot be substitute for a properly funded legal assistance sector,” she said. “That's why it is so critical for lawyers to gather and to exchange ideas around how the funding crisis might be addressed, but also how to innovate and collaborate to do the very best possible with the meagre resources currently available.”

McLeod spoke this morning at the opening of the conference, which will last through tomorrow. Delivering the keynote speech, “What’s wrong with the legal profession – and how to fix it,” is Sheldon Krantz, executive director of the DC Affordable Law Firm and co-director of the US access to justice organisation Justice Lab. He will also deliver the conference dinner address, “The rule of law in the new America.”

The conference, the first to be held in South Australia, is presented by the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Pro Bono Centre in conjunction with the Law Society of South Australia.

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  • Chris Snow on 23/03/2017 12:58:20 PM

    Continuing calls for the Federal Government to provide extra funds for legal aid should be heeded - but on condition that the states and territories abolish or restructure the trust account system under which small and medium clients (SMCs)- but not major clients - are forcef to deposit up-front funds for fees, costs etc in unsafe trust accounts and then have the interest stripped to: fund the bulk of regulation (despite lawyers controlling it); maintain fidelity funds; and prop the legal aid budget. In 2015-16, SMCs had $80m stripped to prop legal aid budgets nationally and during the past 20 years $1.6 billion has been stripped (National Legal Aid data). And the scheme has been operative for 50 years - meaning probably about $4 billion has been taken. It's blatant double-dipping of persons who don't use legal aid and who would not qualify for it if they did seek it. It is a rort which is a shame to attorneys-general who and the lawyer organizations which collaborate to develop the regulatory laws giving the public/clients negligible chance to participate. Australia needs a lay-controlled regulatory system as in England and Wales so that lawyer organizations have no regulatory functions but remain representative organizations only.

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