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Legal aid services deliver $600m benefit annually, PwC report says

For every dollar invested by the federal government, there is a benefit of $2.25 delivered in avoided costs, a new report says. In light of the findings, several legal organisations highlight the need to increase funding to adequately meet demand in the sector.

user iconJess Feyder 29 March 2023 Big Law
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A report launched yesterday (27 March) from PwC, commissioned by National Legal Aid, shows that Legal Aid services deliver over $600 million in benefits to Australia each year.

The report finds that for every dollar invested in Legal Aid services by the Commonwealth government, there is a benefit of $2.25 delivered through avoided costs to the justice system, to individuals, and to the government. 

“This is an enormous benefit-cost ratio when it comes to public finances,” stated Legal Services Commission chief executive Gabrielle Canny.


PwC’s report, The benefits of providing access to justice, outlines the benefits delivered by Commonwealth-funded matters for Legal Aid services, which relate to family law matters and federal civil law.

The approximately $601 million in benefit each year includes:

  • Efficiency of the justice system — the improved operational capacity of the courts;
  • Value to individuals — the benefits derived by individuals who achieve improved legal outcomes; and
  • Wider government and societal outcomes: the benefits derived by government and society when an individual achieves an improved legal outcome.
Ms Canny commented: “Put simply, keeping people and matters out of court saves money — for the people involved and taxpayers at large.

“But importantly, there are also broader societal benefits, by helping people avoid the stress and potential mental health impacts that can arise out of legal proceedings.”  

Elizabeth Shearer, a Queensland Law Society (QLS) past president and chair of the QLS Access to Justice Pro Bono Committee, spoke to Lawyers Weekly about the report. 

“This report confirms what lawyers know from our on-the-ground experience,” she said. 

“Anyone who has done legal aid work knows that effective legal representation not only delivers tangible benefits to clients directly, it also benefits the legal system, because cases are conducted more efficiently with representation, and it saves other government expenditure.”

“The report shows this powerfully, particularly for women who experience domestic and family violence.” 

“We hope that the decision-makers in government will heed this important evidence and return funding to a system that has been in decline.”

Louise Glanville, chair of National Legal Aid and CEO of Victoria Legal Aid, noted that the savings shown in the report are most noticeable in legal assistance that prevents and stops family violence. 

“Eighty-six per cent of all Legal Aid family law matters include a risk of family violence,” noted Ms Glanville, and “more than half the savings [noted in the report] ($378 million) were in supporting women and children escaping domestic and family violence”.

“Nationally, Legal Aid commissions receive $267 million annually from the Commonwealth to deliver family and civil law services,” she highlighted. 

“This new report amply demonstrates the significant benefit Legal Aid commissions provide to the community. Yet we could do so much more with additional investment.” 

“Due to limited resources and a 14 per cent increase in family law demand since 2014, Legal Aid commissions have had to restrict their means tests to maximise service delivery.”

“If funded more appropriately, we could deliver much more legal assistance to those experiencing disadvantage, particularly victim-survivors of family violence.”

She added: “We look forward to ongoing discussions with the federal government as to how this assistance can be maximised.”

Katrina Ironside, executive director at Community Legal Centres NSW, spoke to Lawyers Weekly: “At Community Legal Centres NSW, we congratulate Legal Aid for commissioning this important piece of work on legal assistance.”

Law Council of Australia (LCA) president Luke Murphy commented on the report: “The civil and family law services provided by Legal Aid commissions are a bulwark against further hardship and marginalisation.

“Unfortunately, these services have remained undervalued and underfunded by consecutive governments.”

“Investment in Legal Aid commissions, and the broader legal assistance sector, should not be seen solely as an investment in the justice system,” Mr Murphy stated. “As identified in the report, investment in these services provides significant downstream savings in areas such as health, employment and housing.”

“This investment not only improves outcomes for many of Australia’s most vulnerable and marginalised people but is also critical in delivering vital savings for governments, which can be used elsewhere,” he added.

In a submission to Treasury ahead of the May budget, the LCA noted that current Commonwealth funding levels under the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP), including for Legal Aid commissions, are at approximately half of the level required to meet demand on the sector.

“In considering the federal budget and the imminent review of the NLAP, the Law Council calls on the Australian government to heed the advice of this report and properly recognise and invest in the family and civil law services provided by our Legal Aid commissions, in addition to improved funding for the entire legal assistance sector,” stated Mr Murphy.

“All arms of this sector, including Legal Aid commissions, community legal centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services have a vital role in delivering access to justice across the Australian community,” he said.

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