Survey reveals public support for legal aid

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A new survey has revealed overwhelming public support for universal legal aid availability.

Eighty-one per cent of respondents said they either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: 'In Australia, anyone who encounters a serious legal issue, but cannot afford a lawyer, should be able to rely on legal representation being provided through legal aid’.

The Law Council of Australia, through the campaign Legal Aid Matters, is looking to draw attention to the lack of funding for legal aid in the lead up to the July election.

President Stuart Clark AM said parties need to reassess their priorities in the wake of these new survey results.

“This election, we need all political parties to support the eight-of-ten Australia’s who rightly believe that legal aid should be there for them if they need it,” he said.

“It’s well known that Australians believe passionately in the right to a Medicare safety net. This data clearly shows that we strongly believe in a legal safety net as well.”

Currently, only 8% of people qualify for legal aid under the current means test, introduced as a result of funding cuts.

“Unfortunately, legal aid funding is so scarce that even if you’re living below the poverty line, you’re unlikely to qualify. People are being forced to represent themselves in court and it’s destroying lives.”

The campaign calls for the federal government to inject the $350m into legal aid to end the funding crisis, as recommended in the Productivity Commission report two years ago.

“The legal profession has made the access to justice case.  The Productivity Commission has made the economic case.  And now the public has made the popular case,” Mr Clark said.

“Access to justice is a basic human right and it is one that Australians rightly feel entitled to. Legal representation should not be exclusively for those wealthy enough to afford it. We know that due to the cuts, around 10,000 people per year are being forced to front the courts alone.”