BATED breaths at the peak Victorian legal organisations turned to heavy sighs this week as the Federal Government "fell short" in providing legal services to the disadvantaged.
Both the Victorian Bar and the Law Institute of Victoria expressed disappointment at the budget outcome for legal aid.
The LIV, the Victorian Bar and the Law Council of Australia had called for $66 million in this year’s Budget just to return the Federal contribution of legal aid to 50 per cent, or pre-1997 levels. No additional money for legal aid was allocated in this budget.
“It is even more disappointing that savings from administrative efficiencies identified in the budget papers of $10.4M over four years from assistance schemes will not be allocated back to legal aid grants,” said Victorian Bar chairman Mark Moshinsky SC.
“We recognise that the Government faced difficult decisions in this year’s budget but, the bottom line is that real people are missing out on legal representation and assistance and this will cost us more as a community,” he said.
LIV president Caroline Counsel said families going through a breakup will miss out on legal aid unless additional funding is provided.
“We expect to see an increase in unrepresented litigants as a result of this Budget,” she said.
“That will result in an increase in delays and protracted disputes in the Family Court which is not in the best interests of children or their parents,” she said.
Counsel called on VLA to allocate additional resources to family law legal aid.
The Victorian Bar and LIV welcomed the $4 million over four years to improve access to legal assistance services through the National Broadband Services for people in regional Australia, but they said this would be insufficient to meet demand.
“This allocation to legal aid commissions and community legal centres is no substitute for providing a lawyer who will help people resolve their disputes,” Counsel said.