Queensland Law Society

Destructive defunding of legal assistance programs

Date 05 Jul 2012
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 today warned that government cuts to two major legal assistance programs had the potential to severely damage democratic access to justice.

CEO Noela L’Estrange said cuts to a Special Circumstances Court program and ceasing state government funding for the Environmental Defenders Office was an extraordinary move, even for a government desperate to save money.

“It’s been proven that reducing access to justice for criminal matters only pushes people into jail which comes at an expense much higher than the cost of legal services,” Ms L’Estrange said.

“The government’s term of ‘defunding’ is a euphemism for slashing what they see as an unnecessary expense.

“These court funding cuts will have a serious negative effect on thousands of people, from the most vulnerable members of society to hard working local communities.

“Cutting funding for the Sisters Inside program that helps disadvantaged women appear before the Special Circumstances Court means they think they’ve saved $115,000.

“In reality, they could end up spending more than $18,000,000 per year according to Queensland Corrective Services’ projected costings and taking into account that 240 offenders were successfully diverted from prison through the Sisters Inside program as at 2010.

“Beyond the initial cost, we also need to consider the debilitating impact on reducing access to justice – one of our most fundamental democratic rights.

“The Environmental Defenders Office is another victim of fiscal cuts with all of its state government funding, half of its income, now ceased.

“The office is the only organisation that provides free advice to Queenslanders on environmental issues.

“Surely with all the state’s large mining and infrastructure projects’ potential impacts on local communities, the government should see a need for keeping such a service operational.

“Queensland Law Society urges the government to consider its commitment to successful pro bono legal services such as the Special Circumstances Court and the effect that the removal of vital services will have in the community.”