Law Society joins all Australian Law Societies to call on PM to reverse cuts to legal assistance funding
The Presidents of Australia’s eight law societies, representing more than 60,000 legal practitioners, have called on the Prime Minster to return funding to the legal assistance sector in an open letter to be published in The Australian tomorrow (4 November).
The legal assistance sector, which includes Legal Aid, the Aboriginal Legal Service and Community Legal Centres, will face a funding cut of 30 per cent or the equivalent of around $35 million from 1 July next year.
In the open letter, the Law Society Presidents state, “Adequate legal assistance services are critical in ensuring fairness and efficiency in our court system, and are essential to providing access to justice for the most financially disadvantaged.”
“In 2015, CLCs had to turn away 160,000 people due to lack of capacity. Many are also reporting a reduction in staff numbers. We note that this is taking place at a time when there is a growing ‘justice gap’ for the disadvantaged in Australia, particularly in relation to Indigenous peoples, who are the worst affected group experiencing unmet legal need,” the letter says.
Community Legal Centres, in particular, have a strong connection to their local communities, which enables them to formulate targeted responses to emerging community needs, such as domestic violence.
Law Society President Elizabeth Needham said, “The current funding crisis is a direct result of successive cuts to legal assistance funding over a number of years by both the Federal and Western Australian Governments.
“The underfunding of legal assistance bodies continues to significantly affect access to justice for the most disadvantaged members of the community (including young people, people with low socio-economic standing and people with disabilities). The result is an increasing number of people in the court system who are being denied access to basic legal representation.”
The signatories are calling on the Government to commit to properly funding the legal assistance in the 2017 Federal Budget, so that they can continue to improve outcomes for individuals and local communities through their reform and advocacy work.
A full copy of the letter is available online at: http://bit.ly/2eC5dKC
For further information about legal assistance funding and to sign a petition go to: www.legalaidmatters.org.au
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