Legal aid funding is not increasing – and defendants are suffering

Date: May 18, 2016

The government pays to bring charges against people – so why won't it pay more to help their defence? In an ideal world, legal assistance payments should be equally afforded to everybody because preventing miscarriages of justice is priceless. Unfortunately, legal aid funding comes from a limited pool and 2016 brought bad news, with no increases legal aid for defendants. Commonwealth funding for Legal Aid community centres will be cut back 30 per cent from in 2017-18 because the Commonwealth has revised its National partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services.

These are the conditions under which a no win, no fee legal service can help people defend themselves. 

Law Council unimpressed

The Law Council of Australia (LCA) expressed mixed views over the 2015–16 Budget, saying that while no decrease in funding for legal assistance was welcomed, an absence of extra legal aid funding would "have an immediate impact on access to justice."

"We don't make Australians pay a fee to access public hospitals or schools – why should we have to pay for the Courts?" LCA president Duncan McConnell said.

Funding cut and re-directed – but not increased in the long term

Disgruntlement with legal aid funding has been going on for years. In 2014 the Productivity Commission called for a $200 million boost to Legal Aid funding. In May 2015 a letter from NSW attorney general Gabrielle Upton MP called on the federal government to better fund community legal centres. The letter was also signed by the attorneys general of ACT, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania. This followed the 2013 decision to cut $25.5 million nationwide from the legal assistance budget.

Productivity Commission described the Australian Government's funding for both legal aid and legal assistance through the National Partnership as a re-direction of funding previously provided to the Attorney-General's Department for community legal services to the states. Because the funds have been re-directed, no increase in per capita funding has occurred, the Productivity Commission argued.

The consequences of failing to pay for legal defence

The lack of an increase in legal aid funding, particularly in family law matters and in criminal cases where people are not facing jail, has meant more and more people are representing themselves in court. Community Law Australia's 'Unaffordable and out of reach' report cited research from as far back as 2003 examining the clear relationship between the unavailability of legal aid and self-represented people trying to defend themselves in court.

Gerard Malouf and Partners stands up for the disadvantaged, whether you need help with accident compensation, divorce or to keep from being sued. We're here to help and can give sound advice on what – if any – legal aid you can claim to help level the playing field within the justice system. Read in detail about our no win, no fee policy

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.