Victorian lawyers say the state government’s pledge to inject another $26 million into legal aid each year falls short.
Victoria’s peak legal bodies have welcomed the funds for the next four years, but expressed disappointment that the additional funding for legal aid for the next year is only $1 million in circumstances where demand is expected to rise. It said wage pressures will also affect delivery of services.
The Law Institute of Victoria and the Victorian Bar have now urged Attorney-General Robert Clark to increase legal aid funding in a bid to avoid a crisis in legal aid.
The two legal bodies say they outlined the dire situation and its consequences in a submission to the Attorney-General late last year.
They called for $35 million of additional funding, $25 million of which would be required to maintain current legal aid services without the additional burden on the system created by the reforms introduced by the Baillieu government’s election commitments.
“We are pleased that the Government has committed to the recurrent funding but fear that the system will still be well short, given the additional demand for services,” said LIV President Michael Holcroft.
“The Government’s own law and order reforms such as statutory minimum sentences and additional police mean the demand for legal aid services will be stretched further than ever before.”
The legal bodies said in a joint statement that legal aid enables legal advice and representation to be provided to Victoria’s most vulnerable low income citizens who cannot afford a lawyer.
“If these citizens cannot access legal aid, have no representation in court and do not know their rights, then that makes the job of the courts considerably more difficult in terms of achieving just outcomes” said Victorian Bar Chairman Melanie Sloss SC.
The legal bodies said they acknowledge the government faces challenges in the current economic climate, and expressed relief that at least the current level of funding was maintained. However, they warned that if the legal aid service is not properly resourced, the cost to the community would be greater.