THE Law Council of Australia, together with the Law Institute of Victoria, Australian Bar Association has today released a report calling for a major overhaul of federal and state legal aid funding.
The various legal professional bodies are calling on the government to restore access to justice for people in need of legal aid services.
The call comes in the wake of a new report on legal aid funding, which identified an ongoing decline in access to legal aid, and calculates that an injection of $43.2 million would be needed to return the system to the standard before 1997.
The report (see report on page 2), commissioned by the Victorian Bar, the Australian Bar Association, the Law Institute of Victoria and the Law Council, was conducted in a bid to force a major overhaul of federal and state legal aid funding.
Law Council President John Corcoran said, “No-one should have to face a court on their own because they can’t pay for a lawyer. It flies in the face of equality before the law – a core part of the integrity of our legal system.”
According to the report, the Commonwealth per capita contribution to legal aid commissions in 1997 was $9.65. In 2008/2009, the level of funding was $8.26 per capita and forecast to decline even further.
“As states and territories have been forced to take up more responsibility for legal aid funding, this has exacerbated the unfair and unequal access to legal aid according to where people live,” Corcoran said.
The Victorian Bar’s David Neal SC, who project managed the report, said: "Funding for legal aid is in crisis. We need the federal and state governments to stop the blame game and come up with a national solution for an issue which goes to the heart of the Australian system of justice."
“While we applaud the Government’s commitment to funding initiatives for alternative dispute resolution programs and legal information systems, funding at the coal-face of our justice system is declining in real terms,” Corcoran said.