SIMON Corbell, speaking at the Commencement of the 2015 Legal Year Ceremony has said the Commonwealth Government needs to do more to support Australia’s most disadvantaged community members as they go through the legal system.
“Commonwealth Government cuts to the legal assistance sector during last year placed Canberra’s most disadvantaged community members at an even greater disadvantage in the legal system,” Simon said.
The cuts, which are in direct contrast to a 2014 Productivity Commission report that recommended an increase in legal assistance funding nationally, most heavily affect disadvantaged Australians who are more susceptible to, and less equipped to deal with, legal disputes.
“The ACT Government’s view is that fair and equitable access to justice can only be achieved through a sound legal assistance framework.
“The commonwealth’s new National Strategic Framework for Legal Assistance, due to start on July 1 this year, will affect all government funding legal service providers, including legal aid commissions, community legal centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services and family violence prevention services.
“It will have a significant impact on access to Justice nationally.”
Funding under the new Commonwealth government framework is yet to be announced but recent cuts have already affected ACT Legal Aid ($400,000 a year), the Welfare Rights and Legal Centre ($60,000), the ACT Environmental Defender’s Office ($100,000) and, the Women’s Legal Centre ($80,000).
“It is disappointing that these Commonwealth cuts came side by side with the Productivity Commission’s findings of a need for greater assistance,” Mr Corbell said.
“While the ACT Government is not in a position to simply step in to fill the funding gap left by the Commonwealth we are committed to doing all we can by other means to ensure the impact on those most in need is as limited as possible.”