A coalition of Australian legal bodies has called on the Federal Government to step up its efforts with legal aid funding.
The call comes after the release of a report, prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, showing that there has been an ongoing decline in access to legal aid, and it would require a $43.2 million injection to restore legal aid funding to pre-1997 levels.
According to the report, the Commonwealth per capita contribution to legal aid commissions was $8.26 in 2008/2009, down from $9.65 in 1997, and further decline was forecasted. It also found that the means tests for legal aid funding are in some cases so strict that even people falling below the Henderson Poverty Index would not qualify.
The report was commissioned by the Victorian Bar, the Australian Bar Association, the Law Institute of Victoria and the Law Council of Australia as part of an effort to prompt an overhaul of the Federal/state legal aid funding arrangement.
Law Council president John Corcoran said that the decline in Federal funding was increasing the burden on the states and territory governments.
"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," he said.
David Neal SC, who project managed the report, added that legal aid funding was "in crisis".
"We need the Federal and state governments to stop the blame game and come up with a national solution for an issue that goes to the heart of the Australian system of justice," he said.
The full report can be downloaded here http://www.lawcouncil.asn.au/programs/committees/access-to-justice.cfm.