Lawyers to rally over legal aid crisis

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Rallies and events will take place across Australia next week for Law Week as part of a major national campaign on legal aid funding.

Law Council of Australia president Stuart Clark AM said that adequate funding for legal aid should be a consideration for governments concerned about budget repair, but legal aid funding was left out of the federal budget announced earlier this month.

“Whoever wins this election must commit to properly fund legal aid and end this needless crisis once and for all,” he said.

“The Productivity Commission recommended an immediate $200 million injection into legal aid, which it has found will provide a net economic benefit over the long term. 

“Increasing numbers of unrepresented people have filled the court system, creating enormous inefficiencies. Meanwhile, the downstream impact of unmet legal need on health, unemployment and community services has inestimable social and economic costs, which could be avoided.”

The Law Council did welcome the government commitment to allocate money to legal aid as part of its package to reduce family violence, but much more is needed.

“While supported, these commitments don’t address the systemic funding problem,” Mr Clark said.

“Given decades of deep cuts legal aid, much more funding is needed to end this injustice.”

Clark said that most Australians would be shocked at the lack of funding provided to legal aid, saying the lack of resources in the sector have dire consequences for people forced to represent themselves in court.

“Most people assume that if they require legal help and cannot afford it, legal aid is there to help. Unfortunately they are wrong – the funding crisis is now so bad that even many Australians who are living beneath the poverty line are not eligible.  For most people it’s simply unavailable,” he said.

“We must decide if justice should be the right of all Australians. Due to enormous cuts in legal aid funding, it is now reserved for those with the means to afford a lawyer.  For the rest, it is a lottery.”