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Legal aid funding formula flawed

Legal aid funding formula flawed

The Commonwealth Grant Commission's legal aid funding formula is defective and needs to be reviewed, says South Australian Law Society president Richard Mellows.Mellows' comments come in the…

The Commonwealth Grant Commission's legal aid funding formula is defective and needs to be reviewed, says South Australian Law Society president Richard Mellows.

Mellows' comments come in the wake of an announcement by the South Australian Attorney-General that an extra $10.5 million will be injected into the state's legal aid program over the next four years.

"It is certainly enough to avert the crisis, so far as the state is concerned," Mellows told Lawyers Weekly.

"But the Commonwealth funding is disappointing and that needs to be further addressed."

Mellows believes the Commonwealth's $154 million boost for legal aid over four years is insufficient, with the needs of states not being accurately reflected in the Grant Commission's calculations.

"The [Commonwealth] might have to revise the Grants Commission formula, because we believe it gives South Australia a distorted outcome," he said.

The formula analyses population, the prevalence of sub-groups which utilize legal services more than the general population, and the cost of legal services to determine what proportion of Commonwealth funding will go to each state.

"Western Australia got a huge amount of funding, and without detracting from their needs, we also have problems with remote communities and remote areas. It is very difficult to provide services without funds ... there is a shortfall there.

"We only just got a little bit more funding than Tasmania and we are twice the size, not only in terms of population, but also geographical area."

And despite state funding providing immediate relief for access to justice issues which had reached crisis point across the country, Mellows believes the situation still needs to be closely monitored.

"It is something that we have to keep a very close watch on, but we are pleased that the Attorney-General has responded to the concerns we expressed before the funding was forthcoming," he said.

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