Budget cuts impact on access to justice

The federal budget has been criticised for cutting $15 million from legal aid. According to the Law Council of Australia, “In Victoria alone cuts in grants of legal aid over the last three years mean that an additional 11,000 people will confront the legal system without legal aid and without the means to pay for legal representation themselves”, and the new cuts will exacerbate the problem. Law Institute of Victoria president Geoff Bowyer said, “Vulnerable Victorians will be even worse off with this cut. … Denying access to justice is to deny a basic human right to Victorians. It is a disgrace.” The budget also cut another $6 million from community legal centres. Community Law Australia chair Liana Buchanan said, “Having to close outreach offices and stop providing family violence support lawyers at court are just some of the actions centres will have to take because of these cuts.” The Attorney-General has previously stated that public funding for legal services should focus on direct assistance, rather than policy and law reform advocacy; however, a draft Productivity Commission report on Access to Justice last month found that “advocacy should be a core activity of LACs and CLCs” because addressing problems at a systemic level is more cost effective than handling individual disputes.