The Federal Government has announced that it will increase legal assistance funding by under $20 million in the 2019-20 budget. This meets only 6% of the Law Council of Australia’s recommended additional $310 million per year to provide Australians at risk with adequate legal assistance.
The Law Council’s president, Arthur Moses SC, has described the current state of legal assistance funding in Australia as “abysmal and in need of urgent review.” Saying, “Some of our most vulnerable people are slipping through the cracks”.
Inadequate funding for legal assistance impacts vulnerable Australians looking to utilise services such as the Legal Aid Commissions, Community Legal Centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services. These services provide them with assistance, giving them the resources needed to start seeking justice.
“We should not have two classes of citizens in this country – those who can afford justice and those who cannot – yet this is the unfortunate reality for Australians,” said Mr Moses.
In addition to its growing concern for vulnerable Australians, the Law Council has also expressed concern around funding of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. According to the Law Council, families face up to three years to have their matters heard in the Federal Courts.
“A thorough review of the resourcing needs of Federal Courts and tribunals is desperately needed,” Mr Moses said, noting the proposed merger of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. “The proposed restructure currently before the Senate will hurt Australian families and compound the courts’ problems, not solve them,” Mr Moses said. The Government did announce a funding increase of almost $7 million for the Federal Courts in the 2019-20 budget. This is in addition to the $35 million set aside to support the expansion of the jurisdiction of the Federal Court of Australia to include corporate crime. The Law Council again notes that this funding is an inadequate boost in resources.