Lawyers rally in support of legal aid

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Lawyers around the country will rally this week as part of a campaign launched this week by the Law Council, Legal Aid Matters.

“The legal profession understands that we're in difficult economic times,” Law Council president Stuart Clark told the ABC.

“But the simple fact is that not funding legal aid is actually not economically sensible.

“We believe that something like a $1 invested in legal aid represents up to a $6 return, in terms of economic savings through savings on healthcare costs, savings on people losing their jobs, people losing their homes.”

The campaign is aimed at ensuring the next Federal Government responds decisively to the country’s legal assistance funding crisis, the ACT Law Society said in a statement.

The campaign, launched with support from a variety of church and welfare agencies including the Salvation Army, the Uniting Church and Jesuit Social Services, will see Victorian lawyers rally in the forecourt of the County Court today.

“This is an extremely important access to justice issue,” said Paul Anastassiou QC, Victorian Bar president.

“The consequences of funding cuts to Victoria Legal Aid and the resultant tightening of guidelines are devastating for some of the most disadvantaged people in Australia.

“In the last five years, 11,000 Victorians were denied legal aid because of the cuts.  These cuts have fallen heavily on vulnerable people – young people charged with criminal offences in Magistrates’ Courts and women seeking the protection of the courts in domestic violence cases.”

ACT lawyers will rally on Wednesday, walking from the CLC Hub in Turner to the ACT Supreme Court.

“Successive federal governments have taken millions of dollars from legal assistance bodies,” said Martin Hockridge, ACT Law Society president.

“The system is now at a point where most Australians who can’t afford a lawyer simply won’t get one.  It isn’t just Australia’s most disadvantaged missing out.  Many are everyday Australians.

“Australians are forced to represent themselves in court or, worse, ignore their legal issues.

“Legal aid goes the heart of Australia’s notion of fairness and what kind of society we want to be. Is it one in which everyone has access to justice – or only those who can afford a lawyer?”

Hockridge said that funding legal assistance would save taxpayer money according the Productivity Commission findings, which recommended an injection of $200m to avoid costlier problems developing in the future.

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