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From the CEO - Building on sense of achievement

Every Issue

Cite as: Jan/Feb 2011 85(1/2) LIJ, p.04

In 2011, the LIV will continue to strongly speak out on issues of importance to its members and the wider community.

The start of the new legal year is always a time for reflection. For me, this means thinking about what was achieved in the past 12 months, but also making plans for the coming year.

In 2010, the LIV made its presence felt in Parliament, academia, the courts and the media. Highlights included:

  • more than 200 people attending the LIV WikiLeaks forum to show their support for press and personal freedoms;
  • the LIV Legal Aid Matters rally putting the spotlight on legal aid funding. This remains unworkably low, yet gains have been made with the rise in federal funding for legal aid, fee increases for lawyers doing legal aid work and less draconian means test requirements for legal aid applicants; and
  • the LIV producing its first pre-election advocacy documents, Call to the Parties and Advocating Justice for All. The latter went out to members in the September LIJ and urged our political leaders to adopt four key themes – supporting access to justice, protecting rights, advancing government transparency, access and accountability, and focusing on the future.

In 2011, the LIV aims to be even more effective in getting our voice heard on issues we consider key to achieving greater access to justice for all Victorians.

To that end, social media is now part of the LIV’s communication strategy. Via the LIV website, members can follow us on Twitter and read the president’s blog, which will be steered by the LIV’s new president, Caroline Counsel, whom we welcome on board.

In 2011 the LIV will re-emphasise the importance of:

  • The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. Established in 2008, it is due for review by Attorney-General Robert Clark by 1 October. The LIV urges the Baillieu government not to abolish the Charter, but to have it reassessed by an independent panel and amended to include economic, social and cultural rights. We must keep the Charter at all costs.
  • Interpreter funding. The LIV is calling for the provision of interpreters in civil proceedings, in particular for community legal centres, practitioners providing pro bono legal advice and in the Magistrates’ Court.
  • Financial support to encourage recruitment and retention of lawyers in rural, regional and remote areas. This could include fringe benefit tax exemptions, HECS relief and bonuses for relocation.
  • Legal aid funding. The LIV is calling on the federal government to increase funding by $20 million in the short term; $220 million per year in the long-term. It calls on the state government to provide a guaranteed minimum level of state funding, to maintain current funding levels regardless of any commonwealth increase, and to involve the legal profession in new national partnership agreements.

There are fresh opportunities for lobbying for greater support for all these issues, but in particular for legal aid funding. We believe this continues to be the most pressing issue for the profession.

Victoria is in a new Budget cycle. Since the last state Budget was delivered in May 2010, we have had a new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and a new state government elected in Victoria. The LIV will press home to these new governments the need for improved legal aid funding.

Ground has been gained, with a $92.3 million increase in national legal aid funding announced in last year’s federal Budget. As well, Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) awarded solicitors a 9 per cent fee increase and relaxed the means test for legal aid applicants by increasing the home equity threshold from $100,000 to $300,000, thereby increasing access to justice for many Victorians.

The LIV considers the VLA’s remuneration increase for private practice lawyers doing legal aid work to be a major step on the path to justice for all. But there is still a long way to go.

The LIV is working closely with VLA and we hope to present a joint position on legal aid funding to the Victorian Attorney-General and Finance Minister, Robert Clark, in the lead up to the next state Budget.

The LIV also looks forward to joining with the Victorian Bar and the Law Council of Australia (LCA) to lobby state and federal governments to improve legal aid funding. We will also work with the LCA to help members, particularly large law firms, which are entering international markets.

There is strength in numbers and we are all working towards the same outcome – greater access to justice for all.

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