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VLA reports $11m surplus

Briefs

Cite as: December 2015 89 (12) LIJ, p.11

Victoria Legal Aid has reported an $11 million surplus in its annual report amid warnings that if funding does not increase the service could return to deficit.

The report tabled in October showed demand for legal aid services had risen 19 per cent between 2013 and 2015, with an extra 11,730 duty lawyer services delivered and more than 1400 more grants of legal assistance.

The increase was partly due to a 14 per cent rise in family violence legal services, which came as VLA completed a major review to improve its family law services.

VLA managing director Bevan Warner said the organisation had worked hard to prioritise its services and efficiently manage its finances.

He said VLA’s financial position would allow it to invest an extra $14 million to expand access to justice in the coming year, including extra services to family, youth and children’s law. But he warned that funding would need to keep up with growing demand. “Our surplus masks a growing demand for legal help, especially in family violence, child protection and crime, which could see us back in deficit in 2018 without additional funding,” Mr Warner said.

The LIV has long advocated for increased legal aid funding and for governments to address the Productivity Commission Access to Justice Inquiry’s recommendation for a $200 million boost to funding. LIV president Katie Miller has said VLA cannot continue to provide more legal services with less funding and has supported a government proposal to examine VLA’s current service delivery model following the release of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by the LIV.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report found that legal aid grants had been cut by 24 per cent for private practitioners and 27 per cent for in-house VLA lawyers in the past five years.

“The model for delivering legal aid services has not fundamentally changed since it was introduced in the 1970s,” Ms Miller said.

“The challenges of the 21st century weigh heavily on the legal aid model and it is timely to look at what can be done to help all involved.”

The Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) also tabled its annual report in October and revealed that 89 per cent of all matters prosecuted by the OPP involved a guilty plea or a guilty verdict at trial.

More than 75 per cent of matters were finalised with guilty pleas while the number of acquittals dropped to just under 200, and discontinuances to just under 100.

Meanwhile, the Sentencing Advisory Council’s (SAC) annual report highlighted its assistance to the Court of Appeal ahead of its historic guideline judgment on Community Corrections Orders; and its work in helping with the implementation of baseline sentencing, which came into effect in November 2014.

The SAC also published a range of reports on sentencing practices in 2014-15, 23 new sentencing snapshots, a guide to sentencing law and practice in Victoria, and launched an online tool for sentencing statistics for the County and Supreme Courts.

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