Wednesday, 20 May 2015

2015 Budget Means More Bad News for Legal Aid

At the beginning of last year, Glenn Duker, solicitor and lawyer, lamented the underfunded state of Australian Legal Aid in Law Biz News. Unfortunately, the latest government budget looks like it will only make this issue worse.

Since that article in January 2014, legal aid funding from the Commonwealth has been slashed by $60 million. This has had a huge impact on services such as the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service, Community Legal Centres, the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, and, of course, Legal Aid. In March of this year, the government injected $5.2 million into the Legal Aid fund to help with complex criminal cases. While this was welcome, it was a mere fraction of what has been lost and is nowhere near enough to address the shortfall in what can be provided to those in need.

To address this problem, Legal Aid called for an additional $200 million. Without this, it argues, the country faces a “justice gap”, in which those who can't afford legal action have no access to redress in the courts. The main areas in which this effect can be seen is in consumer law, and also those who have been affected by domestic violence. 

Gabrielle Canny, Chair of National Legal Aid, was involved in “intense” negotiations with Commonwealth officials and was hopeful that the asked-for funding would be allocated in the next budget. Unfortunately, the unveiling of the budget showed that not only has this funding allocation not taken place, but further reductions are projected to occur from mid 2017.

It appears that the justice gap will continue - in fact, it's looking likely only to widen. Glenn Duker believes this is a shame in a country reputed to have one of the highest standards of living in the world.

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