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Law Aid: tailor made for legal aid

Law Aid: tailor made for legal aid

By Steven Sapountsis

Justice 


In its 2008 Civil Justice Review: Report, the Victorian Law Reform Commission identified the importance of legal representation in allowing citizens access to justice: An essential element of a fair legal system is the ability to access legal assistance and to obtain a fair hearing. Accessibility of the law depends on awareness of legal rights and of available procedures to enforce such rights. When access to legal assistance is not available, meritorious claims or defences may not be pursued or may not be successful . . . The availability of legal assistance in civil law matters is, therefore, important both in facilitating access to justice and in ensuring that disputes are resolved fairly. The report acknowledged that: Issues related to the adequacy of legal aid funding for civil legal proceedings are matters of some complexity. Recognising the need for and complexity of legal assistance in civil matters, the LIV and the Victorian Bar, with the assistance of the Victorian government, set up Law Aid in 1996. Where the discussion about contingency fees is stalled, and there remain many matters that lawyers cannot investigate or prosecute for clients because neither has the means to fund disbursements, it is timely to revisit the assistance offered by Law Aid and to encourage solicitors to consider it for meritorious claims that might not otherwise be investigated or pursued. Law Aid was established under Part VIA of the Legal Aid Act 1978. It is a non-profit trust that assists claimants represented by solicitors and barristers who have agreed to work on a “no-win no-fee” basis, but cannot afford to fund disbursements. Law Aid funds disbursements, apart from counsels' fees, incurred when investigating a claim and, where necessary, bringing proceedings. Each claimant pays a non-refundable application fee, currently $150. Claimants are not required to repay funded disbursements to Law Aid unless their claim is successful.

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