Legal bodies have welcomed the announcement that the Productivity Commission will examine how to improve access to justice across Australia.
The Commission will report on the number of Australians who may not be able to afford legal representation but who do not qualify for legal assistance.
“More than half a million Australians are missing out on access to justice simply because it costs too much; this is completely unacceptable,” said NACCLC national convenor Michael Smith when welcoming the announcement.
Law Council of Australia (LCA) president Michael Colbran QC said the steady decline in legal assistance sector funding over the last 17 years has affected many Australians who cannot afford legal representation, restricting access to justice and seriously impacting on the enforcement and protection of legal rights.
“The legal assistance sector has been at breaking point for some time, and many legal assistance providers are now significantly restricting services to those who need them most,” said Colbran.
"The Productivity Commission's examination will allow for the critical evaluation of the economic and social value of legal assistance services and the cost to the community if they are not provided.”
LCA research found that every dollar invested in the legal assistance sector results in substantial downstream savings.
Actuarial modelling from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that for every dollar invested in legal aid there is a saving of $1.60 to $2.25 in the delivery of justice.
A Judith Stubbs and Associates report indicated that for every dollar the Commonwealth invests, Community Legal Centres return a benefit to society of 18 times that cost.
“Investing in the justice system has clear economic benefits for governments, not only in terms of a more efficient legal system but through a decrease in demand for other government services,” said Colbran, adding that all Australians have a fundamental right to access legal advice and services, regardless of their means.
The LCA welcomed any measures that are likely to result in a more effective funding model for the legal assistance sector, as well as reducing the cost of delivering justice.
“It is incumbent upon any Government to ensure the legal assistance sector is allocated sufficient resources to ensure public confidence in the system.
“The Law Council looks forward to contributing to the consultation process and … is confident the outcomes of the Productivity Commission report will assist governments in making better long-term policy decisions.” said Colbran.