Budget boosts to legal aid announced last night must flow into the provision of better family and criminal law services and funding for legal practitioners, according to the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV).
On the back of announcements last night that legal aid across Australia will receive an additional $92.3 million over four years, the LIV has called on the federal and state governments to address the funding imbalance in the new National Partnership Agreement on legal aid, which is due to be in place by 1 July 2010.
Pleased that both governments have recognised the chronic underfunding of legal aid in their recent budgets, LIV president Steven Stevens said: "The real work to improve legal aid services must begin now...Governments have now taken the first step."
But Stevens went on to note that Victoria received the lowest per capita funding of any state which has resulted in a cut in services in family law. Victoria receives $6.18 per capita from the Federal Government for legal aid, compared with the national average of $7.78.
"Victorian lawyers have always provided legal aid services at a discount rate, but it is unjust of governments to expect them to continue to provide many services for no fee at all," he said.
The Victorian Government last week announced an additional almost $50 million for legal aid over two years and Victoria can expect to receive at least another $4.5 million from the Federal Government's $23 million per year increase announced last night.
"Currently it is harder to access assistance for a family dispute in Victoria than anywhere else in the country, and in most cases you need to be on a social security benefit and facing jail time to get criminal law assistance," Stevens said.
"This continued reduction in services due to funding pressure must be addressed now."