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Lawyers call for more legal aid

Briefs

Cite as: (2002) 76(11) LIJ, p.14

More than 200 lawyers attended meetings held outside magistrates’ courts across the state as part of the Law Institute-led campaign to get state and federal governments to increase legal aid funding.

At meetings held outside magistrates’ courts in Melbourne, Moe, Shepparton, Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat on 14 October, speakers painted a bleak future for the legal system if there was not an appropriate injection of legal aid funds.

Speaking in Shepparton, Institute president David Faram said the lack of funds had created problems within the Family Court, the Magistrates’ Court and the Children’s Court.

Mr Faram said that under current funding arrangements 17-year-olds might not be entitled to legal aid if they were facing a criminal offence.

In the Family Court, women who were victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse were being forced to face the perpetrators without legal representation because they could not get legal aid funding.

“Legal aid funding has, in effect, gone nowhere over the past decade,” Mr Faram said.

“Both the state and federal governments are not providing proper funding and are exploiting the goodwill of lawyers. Our profession has been required to provide more for less.”

He said at least an extra $5 million a year was needed to adequately fund state-based legal aid matters.

The Victorian Bar Council’s senior vice-chairman Jack Rush QC told lawyers outside the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court that both the state government and opposition were looking at increasing sentences, which would have a larger impact on those who faced court unrepresented.

“They are the people that are marginalised in our community. They are the people who are poor, who are vulnerable and who are, generally speaking, the victims of our society,” Mr Rush said.

“The government and the community has failed to face up to its responsibility.”

The meetings were the latest phase in the campaign organised by the Institute, Bar Council, Federation of Community Legal Centres, Criminal Justice Coalition and Liberty Victoria to get more legal aid funding.

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