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Legal aid, again, but another point to make

Legal aid, again, but another point to make

By Steven Sapountsis

Justice 


Last Tuesday morning the legal profession come out in force in support of the call for an increase in legal aid funding by governments. The present campaign is the initiative of the Law Council of Australia, supported by its constituent bodies including the LIV. The campaign seeks a greater contribution to legal aid by governments (especially the federal government) to move some way towards better providing legal assistance for those who need but cannot afford it. Some of the figures given at the rally supported the urgent need for an injection of national funds into legal aid: Legal Aid is presently available to only about 8 per cent of Australia’s population despite about 14 per cent living on or below the poverty line (the poverty line being an uncontroversial measure of financial need) Australia spends less than half the amount per capita than the UK on legal aid The federal government spends more on its own legal services than the entire legal aid budget. The basic philosophical issue involved in the call for more legal funds in a country with an adversarial system of justice was neatly summarised by retired Supreme Court Judge Betty King who said at the rally: It cannot be a fair system when only one side gets the money to be represented in court. The Commonwealth continues to increase funding to investigative organisations such as the AFP, ASIC or even creating new paramilitary organisations such as Border Force. But it continues to reduce funding that could remotely balance that system. The calls for increased legal aid funding are not new, and appear to have occupied the time and energy of law associations for years. Over that time, the contribution that the private profession has made to legal aid has, by design or otherwise, increased substantially. This contribution is by way of subsiding government legal aid.

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