By Gianna Huesch
Canberran lawyers rallied recently in support of the national “Legal Aid Matters” campaign running this week, aimed at drawing attention to the issue of the crisis in funding for Legal Aid, and the effect this is having on Australia’s most disadvantaged. The Canberra rally is one of a series of events held this week around the country to raise awareness of Legal Aid funding problems before the upcoming federal election.
The rally is a response to the recent report released by the Australian Law Society which found that around 10,000 Australians annually are forced to self-represent because of a shortfall in Legal Aid support. ACT Law Society president Martin Hockridge is quoted as saying the Legal Aid funding crisis prevents equal access to justice for all Australians.
Over the years, governments have repeatedly cut funding, and ahead of the federal election, the industry now calls on parties to commit to reversing those cuts, and to funding much-needed new services. Several years ago now, the Productivity Commission recommended an injection of $200 million a year to fill service gaps in legal assistance.
Legal experts and practitioners are concerned about the social effect of the funding crisis, especially in relation to those involved in family law cases. There was also a trickle-through effect on the wider economy, in healthcare, housing and child protection, experts warned.
In Tasmania earlier in the week, former chief magistrate Michael Hill lent his support to the Legal Aid rally in his state. Mr Hill spoke of his fears of the heightened risk of injustice with the increasing numbers of self-represented litigants, and the dangers of them not presenting complete evidence and courts not receiving the full picture.
Read more: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/legal-aid-in-crisis-canberra-lawyers-to-rally-20160516-gowg4c.html and http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-16/risk-of-injustice-is-high-with-legal-aid-underfunding-rally-told/7418778