COMMONWEALTH funding for legal aid has been dropping sharply, with figures obtained by the Law Council showing a steady decline since the late 1990s.
In evidence provided this week to a Senate inquiry into access to justice, the Law Council highlighted that the Commonwealth’s share of legal aid funding has fallen by about 20 per cent between 1996/97 and 2009/10.
Law Council President John Corcoran said: “Virtually every organisation that has provided evidence to this Senate inquiry has highlighted the fact that the legal assistance sector is chronically underfunded. It is clearly an issue the committee and the Government cannot ignore.”
“The Commonwealth Government has largely been responsible for the stagnation in legal aid funding since 1996,” Corcoran said.
During the period of 1996-97, the Commonwealth’s contribution, out of a total income for legal aid commissions around the country of $264 million, was $128 million – or roughly 50 per cent of legal aid income.
In contrast, the Commonwealth’s contribution in 2009/10 has dropped to $168 million from a total income of $531 million – a figure that represents less than 32 per cent.
“The Law Council is awaiting the findings of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s report into Access to Justice, which is due to be released tomorrow. We look forward to analysing its recommendations, which we hope will provide a fresh impetus to calls for increased Commonwealth legal aid funding,” Corcoran said.