Media Release - Proposed laws have profound impact on vulnerable people

3 November 2016


The heads of Australia’s eight law societies representing more than 60,000 practising solicitors have called on the Prime Minster to return funding to the legal assistance sector in an open letter to be published in The Australian tomorrow (Friday, November 4). 

President of the SA Law Society David Caruso said that the national legal assistance sector, which includes Legal Aid, the Aboriginal Legal Service and Community Legal Centres, will face a funding cut of 30 per cent or the equivalent of around $35 million from July next year. 

South Australia will be hit particularly hard with Federal Government cutting $4 million out of the Legal Services Commission’s budget, and community legal centres and the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement (ALRM) also losing vital funding. Cuts have been so severe that the Legal Services Commission has been forced to stop sending lawyers to the APY Lands and the ALRM has been tasked with filling the gap with diminished resources. 

“At a time when the appalling rate of Indigenous incarceration is in the national spotlight and the subject of national inquiry, domestic violence is endemic and legal assistance beyond the reach of so many Australians, it is beyond the pale that these vital services are being weakened,” Mr Caruso said.  

“Adequate legal assistance services are critical in ensuring fairness and efficiency in our court system and essential to providing access to justice for the most financially disadvantaged in our communities,” he said.

Mr Caruso said that funding cuts by successive government have had a huge impact on the ability of the legal assistance sector to support those who are the most in need. 

“Last year alone, community legal centres across Australia turned away 160,000 people due to reductions in capacity and staff numbers to deal with requests for assistance,” he said.

The signatories to the letter also note that huge cuts to legal assistance services are taking place at a time when there is a growing “justice gap” impacting the most vulnerable in our communities. 

“The disadvantaged in Australia, particularly Indigenous peoples, are the worst affected group experiencing unmet legal need,’ he said

“Community Legal Centres, in particular, have a strong connection to their local communities, which enables them to formulate targeted responses to emerging community needs, such as domestic violence. 

“They also have a historical role in addressing gaps in legal need which means they have specialisations in areas of law otherwise unavailable,” he said.
The signatories are calling on the Federal Government to commit to properly funding the legal assistance in the 2017 Federal Budget, so that they can continue to improve outcomes for individuals and local communities through their reform and advocacy work. 

Read the full copy of the letter.

Media contact: Michael Esposito 0422 073 146 

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