MEDIA RELEASE - Law society presidents call on PM to reverse cuts to legal assistance forum
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 (4 November 2016).
Mr Tass Liveris, President of Law Society Northern Territory, said that the legal assistance sector, which includes Legal Aid, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Community Legal Centres, will face a funding cut of 30 per cent or the equivalent of around $35 million from 1 July next year.
“Adequate legal assistance services are critical in ensuring fairness and efficiency in our court system and are essential to providing access to justice for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our communities,” Mr Liveris said.
Mr Liveris said that funding cuts by successive governments 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,”, Mr Liveris 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.’, Mr Liveris 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,” Mr Liveris said.
The signatories are calling on the Federal Government to commit to properly funding the legal assistance sector in the 2017 Federal Budget, so that they can continue to improve outcomes for individuals and local communities through their reform and advocacy work.