FAILINGS in Australia’s legal aid system have left up to 45,000 people without representation in court cases in the past seven years, with the Law Council calling for $350 million to address the problem.
Law Council president Stuart Clark AM said legal aid funding was now so scarce services were having to turn people away and many people living in poverty were no longer eligible for the straitened criteria the cuts had imposed.
“Many middle-class Australians can’t afford to pay for legal representation and are forced to front the court alone,” he said.
“They are women trying to escape domestic violence, average workers who unfairly lose their jobs, or young men and women who are facing the prospect of prison.”
The Law Council joins the National Association of Community Legal Centres, which has repeatedly called for more funding to support the 160,000 people they have had to turn away in the past year.
Queensland Court of Appeal Justice president Margaret McMurdo said on a recent trip to Morayfield State High that cuts to Community Legal Centres (CLCs) are cause for concern.
“Cutbacks to CLCs have a detrimental impact on the community in terms of limiting access to justice and driving people into desperate situations, meaning that courts spend longer time dealing with cases without legal representation,” Justice McMurdo said. “It’s false economy to cut back on legal centres.”
Longman’s Katter Australian Party candidate Brad Kennedy vowed to fight for the community’s most vulnerable if elected.
“I will fight to get Legal Aid to those who need it and can't afford it,” Mr Kennedy said.
“All Australians need fair representation before our legal system.”
Greens candidate for Longman Ian Bell said it is critical that access to legal assistance remains the right of all Australians, promising to up CLC spending by 50%.
“Such an increase will not only reverse all the current Government’s cuts but will ensure that tens of thousands more Australians get the legal advice they need through a relaxation of the means test,” he said.
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