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Commonwealth needs to stop playing politics with vulnerable Victorians, Law Institute of Victoria says

Commonwealth needs to stop playing politics with vulnerable Victorians, Law Institute of Victoria says

By LIV Media

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Vulnerable people attending court are missing out on support and legal assistance while the Federal Government increasingly expects the Victorian government to pick up funding shortfalls, according to the Law Institute of Victoria.

LIV President Sam Pandya today called on the State and Federal Governments to urgently agree on a new national partnership agreement which provides essential legal aid funding.

“The current artificial distinction between what is a federal government legal issue and what is a state government issue is leaving vulnerable people caught in the middle,” Mr Pandya said.

“Family violence issues are generally state funded, while family court is generally federally funded. But victims do not see their legal issues in terms of state boundaries, and nor should governments,” he said.

Mr Pandya said today’s news that Court Network was facing cutting vital services to Family Courts in Melbourne and Dandenong was only the latest funding issue to hit legal services. Court Network provides valuable free support and advice to people attending courts and tribunals.

“The governments cannot continue to push back onto volunteer services, such as Court Network, the legal assistance and advice that should be properly funded.”

The Commonwealth’s share of legal assistance funding has continued to decline over two decades and now sits at less than 30% of overall government funding in Victoria. It is now at a stage where the viability of legal assistance availability in core areas such as family law (which is largely family violence-related work) is threatened. Under the expiring National Partnership Agreement 2015-20, the Commonwealth invested a total of $53.777 million in CLCs. For the same period, Victoria has invested $141.697 million.

“The Victorian Government is being increasingly expected to pick up the funding shortfall from the Federal Government, and services to the vulnerable in our community are suffering”, he said.

Mr Pandya said the LIV was also extremely concerned by the recent report that Victoria Legal Aid is no longer going to receive full reimbursement of federal funding for serious criminal cases, including terrorism matters. VLA has indicated it would need to redirect money meant for family law cases to meet the shortfall.

“It should not be a choice between funding family law and funding criminal cases to ensure fair trials. Both are essential,” Mr Pandya said.

The LIV has also contributed a submission through the Law Council of Australia to the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System Inquiry seeking improved funding for the Family Court to support independent children’s lawyers, separate legal representation for family violence victims, and resourcing of supervised contact centres, which can have waiting lists of 9 months or more.

 


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