Access to justice top of Budget wish list
30 January 2024
For the good of all Australians, increased funding for legal assistance services must be prioritised in the upcoming 2024-25 Budget, the Law Council of Australia said today.
“While there are always pressures and limits that must be placed on Budget spending, it is actually when times are toughest that investment in legal assistance services for the most vulnerable in our community becomes even more important,” Law Council of Australia President, Mr Greg McIntyre SC said.
A focus of the Law Council’s Pre-Budget submission is investment in initiatives that can assist in improving outcomes for individuals experiencing disadvantage—including older Australians, people with disability, women and children experiencing family violence, asylum seekers, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“In our Pre-Budget submission we have demonstrated the importance of properly funding legal assistance services and the very real difference this investment can make in people’s lives and our economy more broadly. “People experiencing disadvantage are often more vulnerable to legal problems and frequently have greater and more complex legal needs than the general population,” Mr McIntyre said.
“Enabling people to access legal assistance to help resolve issues—such as family law disputes or accommodation difficulties—to remove themselves from harm, or to enforce their financial or employment rights creates downstream savings in areas such as health and housing.
“We can’t afford to underinvest in our justice system. Yet we estimate that current Commonwealth funding under the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) is half of what is needed to meet demands on the legal assistance sector."
A review of NLAP is currently underway and a final report is expected to be handed to Government next month. This review provides a timely opportunity for change.
“We are urging the Government to increase funding in this year’s Budget as our legal assistance sector, and the people who rely on it, cannot wait any longer,” Mr McIntyre said. “Roughly thirteen percent of Australians live below the poverty line, but the legal assistance sector is not funded well enough to even provide support to this proportion of our population, let alone other Australians who increasingly need, but can’t afford, legal services.
“And of course, access to justice requires lawyers to be available in our communities across the country. Therefore, we have recommended introduction of a Higher Education Loan Program debt relief scheme to encourage more practitioners to live and work in rural, regional and remote areas.
“Other recommendations include increased investment in our courts and commissions, additional funding for representation in family law and domestic and family violence matters, establishment of a federal judicial commission, and supporting access to legal information at no cost across Australia and the Pacific.”
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