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Access to justice requires budget dollars

Access to justice requires budget dollars

By Karin Derkley

Advocacy Child Welfare Courts Drugs Justice 

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The LIV welcomes the state government’s commitment to funding initiatives that aim to deal with drug abuse and family violence, as well as its funding of legal assistance to asylum seekers.

However, further budget funding is still required to adequately support legal aid, court upgrades and access to justice generally.

LIV President Steven Sapountsis said a great start had been made with the state government’s family violence package, which will commit $572 million in statewide funding to establishing more housing and crisis refuges and specialist family violence services and counselling, and for prevention and early intervention programs in Aboriginal communities.

The LIV also applauds the $32 million expansion of the highly successful Drug Court system, which provides an intensive therapeutic sentencing option for people with drug or alcohol dependencies who commit serious drug-related criminal offences.

An initiative to provide funding and support to providers of legal assistance to asylum seekers will also help bridge the gap left by cuts to funding by the Federal Government in 2014.

However, the LIV stresses that the Royal Commission’s recommendations will also increase demand for legal aid, which is already stretched to cover current demand.

While the LIV acknowledges that the state government provided $85 million in legal aid funding in 2014 – 2015, an increase of $2 million from the previous year, the current level of funding is still not sufficient to meet the demands faced by the legal assistance sector. Total state and federal funding remains significantly less per capita than in NSW.

The Productivity Commission called for an immediate $200 million in additional funding across Australia per year for civil legal assistance, including $60 million for Victoria. The LIV has called on the state government to contribute 40% of this additional funding, equivalent to $24 million per year.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that an investment in legal aid saves money within the justice system and in other areas of government spending. For instance, a 2009 PwC report found that there was a return of $1.60 to $2.25 for every dollar of Commonwealth money spent on legal aid funding.

The LIV also urges the state government to allocate urgently-needed funding to upgrading the state’s courts. Court Services Victoria’s annual report pointed out that the state’s court system is projected to be in deficit by $28 million by 2017. It says that historic underinvestment meant “facilities are in poor condition and failing, and pose safety, security and health risks to court and tribunal users, the judiciary and staff”.

The Victorian government’s Access to Justice review aims to ensure that all Victorians are able to access legal help. Adequately resourced courts are an essential element of that. Courts in Victoria’s regional areas are particularly starved of the funds needed to maintain a modern and efficient court system.

The LIV would also like to call on the state government to support ongoing education regarding the Victorian Charter of Human Rights. Resources for education on the Charter have reduced recently, and we encourage the Government to reverse this trend in the 2016 budget.

 

For further information regarding this media release please contact:
Kerry O'Shea, General Manager, Public Affairs & Legal Policy

T: 03 9607 9373
E: media@liv.asn.au
 


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