TARRED and feathered and overwhelmed by picketing lawyers, the Victorian Government has given in to demands it boost legal aid in the 4 May budget.
Outside the County Court this morning, robed and protesting lawyers publicly protested and called for increased legal aid funding to improve the “dire state” of legal aid in the state.
FormerChief Justice of the Family Court, Alastair Nicholson, VCOSS CEO Cath Smith, aswell as LIV president elect Caroline Counsel and Victorian barrister RobertRichter QC, each spoke at this morning’s event.
They saw their victory today as the State Government announced it would boost legal aid.
A funding announcement is “good news” for the system, said Michael Colbran QC, chairman of the Victorian Bar.
The Victorian Bar and a coalition of legal bodies representing the profession has called on the Government to fix the funding shortfall that sees the system teetering “on the brink of collapse”, said Colbran.
The announcement will see additional resourcing of six new judicial appointments in courts dealing with criminal and family law, two “stress areas”, said Colbran.
“We are very pleased with this move by the Victorian Government to redress the situation,” he said.
Dr David Neal SC, who has worked tirelessly on the legal aid issue, said the federal government now needs to follow the Victorian Government’s leads on legal aid funding.
“This is a joint State / Federal responsibility. It is great news that the State has made this a budget priority. We only hope that the Federal Government will restore its funding of legal aid to pre-97 levels.”
“The Victorian Bar hopes this is the first step away from adopting an ad hoc approach to funding legal aid. Legal aid is essential to ensuring access to justice for our State’s most vulnerable,” Neal said.
“There is still a funding shortfall and it is critical that the Federal Government come to the table as a significant partner in protecting the rights of the most disadvantaged Australians. Community legal services cannot be strained further: Depending on the pro bono efforts of the profession to pick up the shortfall and underwrite legal aid is hardly sound policy,” he said.