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Lawyers call for $220m injection into legal aid

Lawyers call for $220m injection into legal aid

The legal profession's representative body is riled over new statistics that reveal that government legal aid funding has dramatically decreased.

THE legal profession’s representative body is riled over new statistics that reveal that government legal aid funding has dramatically decreased.

The Law Council of Australia is now urging the federal government to address the issue in the 2010 Budget.

Labelling access to justice as at “crisis point”, the Law Council said this week the lack of legal aid funding is having a negative flow on effect to the community.

It said the legal profession is concerned about the social and economic impact that failure to adequately fund this sector has on the wellbeing of Australian families and the broader community.

Law Council president Glenn Ferguson said the underfunding affects all aspects of society.

“If you do not qualify for legal assistance and do not have resources to fund representation in court then you will be expected to represent yourself and this has an enormous impact on people’s health, stress levels and family relationships,” Ferguson said.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by National Legal Aid revealed that for every $1 spent on Commonwealth legal aid services, up to $2.25 is saved within the justice system.

This same report revealed Commonwealth legal aid funding has decreased by 12 per cent in real terms since 1996-97.

“Like any number of professions, the law is a highly skilled and specialised area,” Ferguson said.

“A doctor wouldn’t expect someone to self diagnose so it is unjust that individuals are being forced to represent themselves in complex legal proceedings due to lack of Government funding,” he said.

The Law Council and its constituent bodies have been calling on the Federal Government to address the underfunding of the legal assistance sector for more than 10 years.

“The Law Council urges the Federal Government to address the crucial issue of legal assistance sector funding in the up-coming Federal Budget,” Ferguson said.

The Law Council is calling on the Commonwealth for an injection of funding of at least $43.2 million for the next financial year, and a commitment in the budget to restore the Commonwealth share of Legal Aid Commission funding to 50 per cent in the longer term, up from 32 per cent. This would require an additional recurrent expenditure of $220 million.

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Lawyers call for $220m injection into legal aid
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