Queensland Law Society

Access to justice issues affect a growing list

Date 20 Dec 2011
Contact Natalie Graeff, Manager Corporate Communication
Phone (07) 3842 5868
Mobile 0488 433 884
Fax 07 3221 9329
Email n.graeff@qls.com.au

Queensland Law Society and the Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services (QAILS) have thrown down the gauntlet to State political parties to ensure every Queenslander is granted a basic human right, being access to justice services when needed.

The Society and QAILS, respectively representing solicitors and community legal centres, said the current system could not guarantee legal assistance for all people who:

  • are at risk of going to prison, like Susan, a pregnant mother incarcerated for fine default.
  • are involved in child protection matters, like ‘Mary and Paul’ who each have learning impairments and this year had their contact with their children unfairly reduced.
  • have mental health issues, like ‘Matt’ who must represent himself in the Mental Health Review Tribunal, at which the Attorney-General is represented by his own legal representative.
  • require an interpreter, like a number of clients in the Cape York region who can’t access interpreters in criminal trials.
  • live in regional areas, like Sarah, a victim of domestic violence who could not access legal assistance in time to set aside an agreement entered into with her ex-partner under alleged abuse.

Society president Bruce Doyle said the length of this list illustrated the reality of the many hundreds of people who are at risk of injustice because of personal circumstances.

“It’s a horrendous state of affairs that the most vulnerable members of our community who need the protection of our justice system, are the ones who have the most trouble accessing it,” Mr Doyle said.

“We are talking with political parties in the hope that they will have the courage to guarantee recurrent and reliable funding for community legal centres, increased incentives for legal practitioners to undertake legal aid work and resilience support for practitioners who provide legal assistance during disasters.”

QAILS President Scott McDougall said community legal centres were notoriously underfunded, with Queensland Treasury contributing less than a quarter of its Victorian counterpart on a per capita basis.

“While demand skyrockets due to Queensland’s growing population and the GFC pinch, many community legal centres have been forced to cut services. To make matters worse, a number of centres face yearly funding decisions about the continuity of vital programs” Mr McDougall said.

“This makes it almost impossible to plan programs and ensure adequate service provision.”

Queensland Law Society recently released an issues paper to Queensland’s political parties requesting action on 11 legal and social concerns, with access to justice being a top priority.