In the wake of yesterday’s Budget, lawyers have pointed to the deficits in legal aid funding, saying the Government has overlooked a fundamental issue for a fairer Australia.
The Law Council of Australia today said it was disappointed by the Government’s failure to do more to improve access to legal services for disadvantaged Australians.
Catherine Gale, president of the legal professional body, said despite clear indications a lack of funding for legal aid is having a serious impact on the ability of many Australians to access legal services, the Government has chosen to overlook this crucial issue.
“This year’s Federal Budget was directed towards developing a stronger, fairer future for all Australians.
"But failure to adequately fund the legal assistance sector means hard working Australians, who have fallen on tough times, simply will not be able to afford legal help.
"Underfunding of the legal assistance sector creates additional costs down-stream, rippling into many different areas, including the justice system, public health system and the broader business community," Gale said.
Commonwealth funding for legal aid commissions is well below the pre-1997 proportional share of funding, when funding generally represented approximately 55% to the States share of 45% and the Law Council believes as a principal revenue raiser, the Commonwealth contribution should be at least 50 per cent.
“The underfunding of the legal assistance sector cannot continue - the structural re-adjustment must commence immediately so the Commonwealth’s contribution to legal aid returns to at least 50 per cent,” Gale said.
The Law Council has been actively lobbying the Commonwealth Government to restore per capita funding to legal aid and in its recent budget submission to Treasury provided a plan to restore funding to 50 per cent through consolidated revenue by 2015.
“All Australians have a fundamental right to access legal advice and services, regardless of their means and the Law Council and its constituent bodies have been calling on the Commonwealth Government to address the underfunding of the legal assistance sector for well over a decade," she said.