FURIOUS at missing out on more funding for legal aid in the state budget this week, Victorian lawyers now turn to the federal government to make up for it.
Describing a "black hole" for legal aid, Victorian lawyers now call on the 2011 Federal Budget to provide better access to justice for disadvantaged Australians.
The Victorian Bar and the Law Institute of Victoria have pointed to the program set out in the Law Council of Australia Budget Submission which calls for $66 million in this year’s budget just to return the Federal contribution to legal aid to pre-1997 levels.
The submission calls for nearly $312m over four years, which would return Commonwealth funding to 50 per cent of legal aid nationally, up from 33 per cent currently.
“It’s a big number, but that is the amount needed to catch up after 14 years of chronic underfunding,” said Mark Moshinsky SC, Victorian Bar chairman.
“While we acknowledge that the Government faces budgetary constraints, the bottom line is that real people are missing out on legal representation and assistance.
“Those missing out include the socially and economically disadvantaged - the working poor, minorities and people with disabilities. It includes people who are on incomes below the poverty line.
“These are the people least equipped to deal with navigating a complex legal system, who cannot afford legal representation to ensure they get a fair go in any legal situation," said Moshinsky.
“Relying on the goodwill of lawyers and barristers, who offer countless hours of pro bono assistance, is not the answer. We cannot have a system that degenerates into a system for the ‘haves’ and another for the ‘have nots’."
Victorian lawyers say he Federal Government must address this "systemic and chronic underfunding" or Australia risks becoming a culture where a fair go, and access to justice, depends on wealth.