QLS joins national call for PM to reverse slashing of legal assistance funding
3 November 2016
Queensland’s peak lawyer body has backed a push by the nation’s more than 60,000 solicitors demanding Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to restore legal assistance funding.
Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts has joined heads of seven other state and territory law societies to pen an open letter – to be published in The Australian newspaper on Friday (Nov 4) – imploring Mr Turnbull supply sufficient funds to ensure access to justice for the nation’s most impoverished and vulnerable citizens.
Mr Potts said the legal assistance sector, which included Legal Aid, the Aboriginal Legal Service and community legal centres, was headed for a “funding cliff” that would result in the slashing of 30 percent or the equivalent of around $35 million from July 1 next year.
“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 Potts said funding cuts by successive governments have had a crippling 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.
“Those figures are astounding. To put it into perspective that’s the equivalent of the 33,000 people who watched Queensland win the first State of Origin Match at Lang Park in 1980, plus the other 127,000 who regularly claim to have been there.”
The signatories to the letter also revealed massive cuts to legal assistance services were taking place at a time when there was a growing “justice gap” impacting the most vulnerable members of the community.
“The disadvantaged in Australia, particularly Indigenous peoples, are the worst affected group experiencing unmet legal need,” Mr Potts 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.”
The signatories are calling on the Federal Government to commit to properly funding 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.
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