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Access To Justice Gap

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By Divya Sharma, Lawyer, MST Lawyers

The efforts of groups such as community legal centres (CLCs), the LIV, Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) and the Law Council of Australia have resulted in $55.7 million federal funding towards legal assistance services and a record $1.9 billion Victorian funding towards family violence prevention. It is applauded by the legal profession as a positive step, however, essential funding for legal aid commissions across the nation continues to be a pressing issue.

Although the federal funding includes $39 million for CLCs and $16.7 million for Indigenous legal assistance providers, the federal government is yet to respond to the Productivity Commission’s 2014 recommendation about $200 million annual funding from federal and state governments to adequately fund and address access to justice through legal assistance services. Additional funding is required for legal aid, in particular legal aid commissions.

The huge justice gap cannot be filled by lawyers and inadequately resourced courts. The state package will be used towards implementing the 227 recommendations made in the 2016 Family Violence Royal Commission Report. This includes approximately $448 million towards establishing 17 one-stop-shop support and safety hubs across the state, $270 million towards victim assistance, support and counselling, in addition to establishing specialist family violence courts across Victoria. The state budget provides a $15 million investment in Victoria Legal Aid and $14.5 million in Victoria’s CLCs to help disadvantaged members of the community access critical legal advice and support.

While the state budget represents a good outcome, VLA remains concerned about the current and growing demand on parts of the justice system, particularly the adult criminal justice system. It is believed that the planned growth in police numbers will exacerbate pressure on an overburdened Magistrates’ Court. Therefore, continuous reform and investment is required in this important area to deliver better justice every day.

This article was first published in the Law Institute Journal, July 2017, p68 and has been reproduced here with LIV’s consent.