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Cite as: April 2012 86 (04) LIJ, p.17

The LIV is urging government to increase legal aid funding.

The LIV continues to lobby for increases in legal aid funding and capital investment for Victorian courts and financial assistance for regional lawyers in the lead-up to the 2012 state and federal budgets.

The state budget is due to be delivered on 1 May and the federal budget on 8 May.

LIV president Michael Holcroft said the main focus would be to ensure greater legal aid funding from the state government for criminal matters to help balance the predicted effects of changes in sentencing laws.

The LIV remained “cautiously optimistic” of a favourable outcome following several meetings with Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark.

“We have impressed on Mr Clark, jointly with the Victorian Bar, that we are concerned that these changes to the justice system will bring unwanted consequences through the justice system,” he said.

“Most worrying are what the potential impacts will be of changes to sentencing and the introduction of extra police and protective service officers, especially in relation to a suspected drain on court resources and existing legal aid budgets.”

Mr Holcroft said the legislative changes would likely increase not only the overall number of court appearances, but also appearances required for individual matters.

For example, Mr Holcroft said that extra appearances will be required because community corrections orders now require detailed assessments and case plans to be written, which will not always occur on the day of sentencing.

“Mr Clark has acknowledged with us this need for legal aid funding, but he has said it is a very tight budget and we are cautiously optimistic that the Attorney will do his best to lobby his colleagues for more legal aid.”

The LIV is keen to work with the federal government to help construct national legal aid partnership agreements and to help in securing minimum levels of state legal aid funding.

Legal aid funding has been high on the legal community’s radar for many years.

In 2008, 200 LIV and other legal community members rallied outside the County Court to protest low levels of legal aid funding for criminal law matters.

The following year, the Law Council of Australia (LCA) released a PricewaterhouseCoopers report on legal aid funding which identified the declining access to legal aid and the impact of inadequate funding of legal aid in the areas of family law and criminal law.

Last year, the LCA, in collaboration with state law societies, launched the A2J (Access to Justice): Legal Aid Matters (http://tinyurl.com/7slylme) campaign which aimed to improve access to justice for some of society’s most vulnerable members.

Mr Holcroft said another key area of need was for financial assistance to support the recruiting and retaining of practitioners in regional, remote and rural areas (RRR) (http://rrrlaw.com.au) of Australia and deliver better access to justice in the areas.

He said it was vitally important that the LIV and legal profession as a whole continued to drive the campaign aimed at helping to recruit and retain lawyers in RRR areas and to lobby for greater support for the ageing profession through succession planning.

To this end, the LIV has proposed monetary allowances or bonuses for those practitioners who relocate, increased opportunities for clinical placements for law students and graduates, traineeship and scholarship programs and cash incentives for completion of an agreed period of time in RRR areas.

The LIV is also currently working with Regional Development Victoria to establish a young professionals cadetship program for law students.

Mr Holcroft called for the state government to provide extra capital investment for court infrastructure across the justice system, from Supreme, County and Magistrates’ Court facilities in Melbourne, to regional courts with drastic need in centres such as Shepparton, Wangaratta and Bendigo. (See “Courthouses in urgent need”, page 16)

A spokesperson for Attorney-General Robert Clark said: “The government appreciates the issues raised by the Institute and decisions regarding funding priorities for the year will be made in the context of the state budget”.

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