Thousands unrepresented due to lack of legal aid funding
THE Law Council of Australia has launched its ‘Legal Aid Matters’ campaign during law week after it revealed 45,000 people faced court without legal representation in recent years due to lack of funding.
Legal aid represents clients from across the Northern Rivers at Lismore, Ballina, Byron Bay, Mullumbimby, Casino and Kyogle courts.
According to The Law Council’s analysis, over a five year period from 2009/10 to 2013/14, at least 45,000 Australians faced the courts nationally without legal aid as a direct result of a lack of funding.
Legal Aid Matters campaign spokesman, Law Council of Australia President, Stuart Clark AM, said it equates to almost 10,000 people per year being denied representation.
“Deep cuts by successive federal governments now means that thousands of ordinary Australians are being denied justice,” he said.
“Lives are being ruined because people who encounter legal problems cannot afford a lawyer to present their case effectively.
“Legal aid funding is now so scarce that even many Australians living below the poverty line aren’t eligible.
“It isn’t just Australia’s most disadvantaged missing out.
“Many middle-class Australians can’t afford to pay for legal representation and are forced to front the court alone.
“They are women trying to escape domestic violence, average workers who unfairly lose their job or young men and women who are facing the prospect of prison.
“The figures we are referring to only relate to court representation, which is nowhere near the complete picture.
“In fact, figures released this year by Community Legal Centres show that they are turning away more than 160,000 people each year.
“Every year one in four Australians have a problem serious enough to require a lawyer and the unfortunate fact is that not all of those will be able to afford one.”
Mr Clark said the Legal Aid Matters campaign is urging all major parties to end the crisis by properly funding legal aid.
Call for funding
The campaign is calling for $350 million.
The key asks include acting on the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to immediately inject $200 million into legal aid, which the Commission found will save the taxpayer money over the long term.
“Australia now spends half of what the UK does per capita on legal aid,” Mr Clark said.
“Decades of cuts mean whoever wins the election in July will inherit a system on the brink of complete failure.
“Reversing the cuts and ending this injustice must be priority for all parties.”
Mr Clark acknowledged the Government commitment to allocate $30 million to support legal assistance services as part of its family violence package; and the Opposition’s promise to increase funding to Community Legal Centres, but said much more was needed.
You can get involved in the campaign by visiting legalaidmatters.org.au – where they learn more about the crisis, sign a petition, and even directly contact their local MP.