The Law Council of Australia has renewed calls for the Federal Government to address funding issues facing legal aid agencies across the country.
As the 2010 Federal Budget approaches, the chronic shortage of legal aid funding, says the Law Council, is having far reaching effects on the broader community, and the legal profession is concerned about the effects on access to justice and the wellbeing of Australian families.
"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," said Glenn Ferguson, Law Council president.
A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by National Legal Aid revealed that legal aid funding has decreased by 12 per cent since 1996-97.
"Like any number of professions, the law is a highly skilled and specialised area. [But] 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," said Ferguson.
According to the Law Council, it has been calling on the Federal Government to alleviate the persistent underfunding of the legal aid sector for more than ten years, to no avail.
"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 therefore calling on the Commonwealth to allocate at least $43.2 million to legal aid for the next financial year, and to make a commitment in the budget to restore the Commonwealth share of Legal Aid Commission funding from the current 32 per cent to 50 per cent over the long term, requiring an additional expenditure of $220 million.