Open letter from Pro Bono Practices in Australian Law firms

Below is an open letter from Pro Bono Practices in Australian Law firms in support of an adequately funded legal assistance sector.

20 June 2016

Pro Bono and the Legal Assistance Sector
In 2015, leaders of pro bono practices at Australian law firms wrote to the Attorneys General in all Australian governments, to advocate that the renewal of the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services be guided by the relevant findings made by the Productivity Commission in its Report into Access to Justice Arrangements.

Our concerns have been echoed in the Law Council of Australia’s #LegalAidMatters campaign and Community Law Australia’s #FundEqualJustice campaign.

The Productivity Commission observed that not providing legal assistance for unresolved civil problems for low-income and disadvantaged people is a false economy, as the costs of unresolved problems are shifted to other areas of government spending such as health care, housing and child protection. Numerous Australian and overseas studies demonstrate the net public benefits which come from legal assistance expenditure to resolve civil legal problems for low-income and disadvantaged people.

Adopt the Productivity Commission’s recommendations for civil legal assistance
We continue to urge the Commonwealth, States and Territories to commit to a realistic plan which will adopt the recommendations of the Productivity Commission in respect of addressing unmet legal need for low-income and disadvantaged Australians, and which will move towards the additional $200m of annual Legal Assistance Sector civil funding recommended by the Productivity Commission, including an additional annual $120m from the Commonwealth.

Reverse the cuts
We are concerned about the impact of the present arrangements to cease the restoration of Commonwealth funding for Legal Assistance Sector providers at 30 June 2017. Scale efficiencies and funding uncertainties are already a challenge for the community legal sector. Government-funded civil law assistance for disadvantaged Australians is delivered in large part through 200 small and under-resourced independent CLCs which must rely heavily on volunteer lawyers while facing complex multiple and short-term funding arrangements. The present arrangements further reduce the capacity of CLCs to assist low-income and disadvantaged clients.

Pro bono work cannot fill the gaps
Pro bono legal assistance cannot be a substitute for government-funded Legal Assistance Services in Australia. This is much more than a statement of fundamental principle. Not just philosophically, but also as a matter of practical reality, pro bono assistance by private lawyers could not possibly fill the gap which exists. Australia has a pro bono culture stronger than almost every other country, and yet pro bono work at large firms might amount to less than 3% of the capacity of Legal Assistance Services to assist low-income and disadvantaged clients.

We have little or no pro bono capacity to assist with family law, criminal law, immigration or with clients in regional Australia. We cannot come close to meeting the level of unmet legal need which will be created by a reduction of CLC capacity.

There is no effective pro bono assistance without an effective Legal Assistance Sector
We cannot provide effective pro bono assistance without an effective Legal Assistance Sector. Virtually none of our pro bono work for low-income and disadvantaged people could be performed without partnerships and relationships with Legal Assistance Services, including with CLCs.

The individual clients we assist on a pro bono basis usually are referred to us by a Legal Assistance Service or attend one of the outreach clinics we conduct with a Legal Assistance Service. The delivery of many pro bono services by the private legal profession requires a partnership or collaboration with effectively-functioning Legal Assistance Services.

Yours sincerely

Nicky Friedman – Director of Community Engagement, Allens
Sarah Morton-Ramwell – Partner, Global Head Pro Bono and Corporate Responsibility, Ashurst
Kate Gillingham – Pro Bono Counsel, Baker & McKenzie
David Hillard – Partner, Pro Bono National Practice Group Leader, Clayton Utz
Catriona Martin – Pro Bono Director – Asia Pacific, DLA Piper Australia
Michelle Hannon – Pro Bono Partner, Gilbert+Tobin
Jillian Mitford-Burgess – Pro Bono Special Counsel, Henry Davis York
Brooke Massender –  Head of Pro Bono & Citizenship Australia & Asia, Herbert Smith Freehills
Joanna Renkin – Pro Bono Community Support Partner, Lander & Rogers
Karen Keogh – National Pro Bono Leader, Tress Cox Lawyers

 

Budget cuts to legal assistance services hit vulnerable hardest

Australia’s most vulnerable people who require vital access to legal assistance services have once again been let down by the Federal Government in this year’s Budget, says the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC).

The 2016-17 Federal Budget does not reverse the looming funding cuts or include any additional investment in legal assistance service, including Community Legal Centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services or Legal Aid Commissions.

“This year’s Budget is a missed opportunity to stop the funding cuts and ensure the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people across Australia have access to legal assistance,” NACLC Chairperson Rosslyn Monro said.

“The Government has failed our most vulnerable by not prioritising access to legal help for hundreds of thousands of people across Australia”.

“Community Legal Centres helped over 215,000 people with free legal advice last year and had to turn away over 160,000 largely due to lack of funding. These are the people that will suffer as a result of this Budget”.

“The unchanged funding in the Budget means the funding cliff for Community Legal Centres under the National Partnership Agreement for Legal Assistance is still a reality, amounting to $34.83 million cut between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2020”.

“We are also extremely concerned that funding cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services amounting to over $6 million between 2014-2015 and 2017-2018 will continue, as will the underfunding of Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services and Legal Aid Commissions”.

“We welcome the additional funding for family violence, but it is disappointing that funding does not include funding for legal assistance services”.

“Facing a deficit of $37.1 billion in this Budget we understand the Government needs to make difficult decisions. However, it has ignored the expert recommendations made by bodies such as the Productivity Commission in forming this Budget, in particular the clear view that investing in legal assistance services makes economic sense, and that there is an urgent need for additional funding”.

“Time is running out. Community Legal Centre are facing a 30% cut to funding nationally from 1 July next year and hard decisions are already being made about cuts to services and staff.”

“The bottom line is that these cuts will have a significant impact on the ability of people across Australia to access the legal help they need. They deserve better. The message in the Budget was that the Government doesn’t think this is a priority,” Ms Monro concluded.

For further information or to arrange an interview contact:
Rosslyn Monro, Chairperson, 0407 633 084
Amanda Alford, Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645
Jackie Hanafie, Media Adviser, 0412 652 439

Free Legal services for young people under threat

Young people across Australia should be celebrating the opportunity to ‘Be The Future’ this National Youth Week says the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC), not worrying about their legal problems or the ability to pay bills for a legal issue that won’t go away.

Community Legal Centres (CLCs) provide free legal help to children and young people across Australia. In 2015, CLCs assisted over 74,000 young people between 18-34 years and over 3,500 young people under 18 years. CLCs also provide free legal help to parents and others on issues affecting children, including over 3,300 advices on child protection issues and over 4,000 advices on child support last year” said Rosslyn Monro, NACLC Chairperson.

The Youth Advocacy Centre is a specialist CLC based in Brisbane. “We provide a range of services including legal advice and referrals to young people in the youth justice and child protection systems, and information and support to young people appearing in courts and tribunals, including a duty lawyer service at the Brisbane Children’s Court” said Janet Wight, Director, Youth Advocacy Centre.

“As well as providing court/casework to young people, we also run community legal education in schools and in the community which is crucial in letting young people know what their legal rights are, and what to do if they have a legal problem.”

The young people we help are extremely vulnerable. For example, last year 44% of our legal services clients were not living at home; 50% of our legal, youth support and family support clients had a past or current substance use problem; 45% of family support clients had a past or current mental health problem; and 77% of our bail support clients were known to Child Safety Services. Our service is crucial in ensuring that these young people get the advice and support they need,” Ms Wight said.

“At Youthlaw we are co-located with other youth services. We assist vulnerable young people who would otherwise not seek out legal help by themselves. They come from backgrounds of family breakdown, family violence, neglect and disadvantage. Most have been in families that have had no intervention from child protection system and are largely invisible to the community. We assist with their fines, debts, mistreatment and interactions with authorities. They are so thankful for our help. For once they feel the support and protection of the law instead of fearing its use against them. Legal help along with other services makes a big difference and allows them to get on with their lives,” said Ariel Couchman, Director of Youthlaw, based in Melbourne.

CLCs use a range of innovative tools to engage with children and young people. For example, the

2014 National Census of Community Legal Centres indicated that almost 20 percent of CLCs that responded use skype to provide legal advice and over 16 percent use Youtube to provide community legal education.

Youthlaw in Melbourne is an example of one of those CLCs that uses skype to reach out to its clients. Ms Couchman said “our skype legal service throughout regional Victoria reaches out to vulnerable young people where there is high disadvantage and few services and supports. This service is simple & cost effective and works with those most in need yet we struggle every year to get funding to keep it going.”

“However, CLCs across Australia face a 30% funding cut to Federal funding from 1 July next year. That sort of cut will have a significant impact on the ability of CLCs to help children and young people who need our help” added Rosslyn Monro, NACLC Chairperson.

As a result, this National Youth Week, NACLC reiterates its call for:

  1. Reversal of the Commonwealth funding cuts to CLCs under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance amounting to $34.83 million from 1 July 2017 to 30 June 2020
  2. An immediate injection of $200 million per year into the broader legal assistance service system, as recommended by the Productivity Commission, which should be shared between the Commonwealth (60%) and the States and Territories (40%). This should equate to at least an additional $24 million per year allocated to CLCs ($14.4 million p.a. Commonwealth and $9.6 million p.a. from States and Territories); and
  3. A commitment by all levels of Government to implementing an appropriate process for determining adequate and sustainable longer-term funding contributions for legal assistance in consultation with the sector.

Open the link to view the PDF: Free Legal services for young people under threat

 To arrange an interview or for more information please contact:

 Rosslyn Monro, NACLC Chairperson, 0407 633 084
Jackie Levett, Media Officer, 0434 995 611
Janet Wight, Director, Youth Advocacy Centre (Brisbane), 07 3356 1002
Ariel Couchman, Director, Youthlaw (Melbourne), 0438 812 937

 

Open letter to the Council of Australian Governments

Dear Prime Minister, Premiers, Chief Ministers and Australian Local Government Association representatives,

We write to you today, ahead of the 1 April 2016 meeting of COAG, to call for your collective resolution of the growing threat of inequity in the access to justice for people across Australia.

Over 216,000 people receive free legal help each year from Community Legal Centres across Australia. Assistance is provided on a range of legal matters including family violence and family law, tenancy, credit and debt and consumer issues. As confirmed by the Productivity Commission[1], government investment in these services makes good economic sense. Community Legal Centres prevent the escalation of often relatively simple issues into complex legal matters that have expensive implications for Legal Aid Commissions and the Courts, as well as other essential community service systems.

Despite this, under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance (NPA), national funding to Community Legal Centres will be cut by 30% from 2017, equating to $34.83 million between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2020. Already over 160,000 people have to be turned away each year due to inadequate resourcing. It is clear that more funding is required, not less.

In recognising the critical role played by legal services in preventing and responding to domestic and family violence, the report of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence released this week calls for increased investment in Community Legal Centres.[2]

The Commonwealth’s investment through the Women’s Safety Package is also a clear acknowledgement of the role played by Community Legal Centres in addressing this national priority issue. However, providing additional funding to 10 of the 150 Community Legal Centres funded under the NPA does not equate to the maintenance of the well established supports for this target group provided by Community Legal Centres across Australia.

COAG’s capacity to address its own priority of preventing violence against women and their children now and into the future is significantly undermined by the cuts instituted through the National Partnership Agreement.

Unlike other Commonwealth/State partnerships, the NPA is silent with respect to State and Territory contributions. Not only does the NPA compound the inequity in the access to justice for ordinary Australians between jurisdictions, it fails to provide a mechanism to agree appropriate arrangements for current and future government investment in essential community legal services.

The Commonwealth’s decision to cut funding under the NPA without proposing how this funding shortfall will be addressed is a fundamental example of the risk to funding certainty and durability highlighted in the Reform of Federation White Paper process.[3] Without resolution of this very problematic financial outlook, State and Territory governments will be left to bear the political risk of implementing a reduction in service availability that also has resource implications for other State/Territory funded services.

It is clear that a collaborative federal approach to preventing escalation in the inequity in access to justice is required. This should not only focus on reversing the cuts scheduled under the NPA. It needs to redress the current shortfalls in the system and establish a way for agreeing how legal need is sustainably and equitably addressed into the future.

In recognition of the inadequacy of the current funding arrangements the Productivity Commission has called for an immediate injection of $200 million a year into the broader legal assistance service system, with 60% to be contributed by the Commonwealth Government and 40% by the States and Territories.[4] This recommendation was made to address the most pressing needs whilst a more accurate assessment of future requirements can be conducted. Whilst discussion is required to determine the best distribution of funding across the service system, in keeping with current arrangements, at least 12% of this immediate injection must be provided to Community Legal Centres.

Accordingly, the National Association of Community Legal Centres’ campaign Community Law Australia – Fund Equal Justice calls for:

  1. Reversal of the Commonwealth funding cuts under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance amounting to $34.83 million over the period 2017/18 to 2019/20;
  1. An immediate injection of $200 million per year into the broader legal assistance service system to be shared between the Commonwealth (60%) and the States and Territories (40%). This should equate to at least an additional $24 million per year allocated to Community Legal Centres ($14.4 million p.a. Commonwealth and $9.6 million p.a. States and Territories).
  1. A commitment by all levels of Government to implementing an appropriate process for determining adequate and sustainable longer-term funding contributions for legal assistance in consultation with the sector.

Open the link to view a PDF of the letter: Open letter to COAG 31 March 2016

[1] Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, Access to Justice Arrangements, No. 72, 5 September 2014

[2] Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, Recommendation 69.

[3] Australian Government, Reform of the federation Discussion Paper (2015) p.5

[4] Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, Access to Justice Arrangements, No. 72, 5 September 2014

Productivity Commission urges more funding for legal assistance, defends advocacy by publicly funded community legal centres

In its final report on access to justice arrangements released today, the Productivity Commission has recommended significant additional funding to help people with a range of civil legal problems such as family violence, employment, housing and debt, which have a significant impact on the lives of many Australians.

The Commission called for better evidence on legal and unmet legal need in Australia, and for governments to report annually on the extent of any failure to meet agreed coverage and priorities.

‘This report should mark a watershed moment in legal assistance in Australia. The Productivity Commission has recognised the severe social and economic impacts of an inaccessible justice system, and it has acknowledged the system is badly underfunded.

‘The report provides strong arguments against the deep cuts inflicted on community legal sector in the last Federal Budget and indicates the immediate reversal of those cuts and a significant increase in funding are needed,’ said Community Law Australia national spokesperson, Carolyn Bond AO, today.

‘Instead of massive cuts, this report is calling for the injection of $200 million to legal assistance services including community legal centres, Aboriginal legal services and legal aid. We support that as a starting point to ensure that access to legal help does not depend on your capacity to pay for a private lawyer,’ Ms Bond said.

The report notes that legal assistance funding in Australia is less than a third of per capita levels in the UK.

The Commission also endorsed the use of public funds by community legal centres for advocacy and law reform, with a specific recommendation that they be funded as a core activity.

This strengthens the Commission’s position expressed in its draft report, and runs counter to measures introduced by the Federal Government in July to limit law reform activities by community legal centres using Federal funds.

‘The Commission has rightly acknowledged the value of community legal centres working to resolve individual cases, and learning from those cases to argue for improvements in the law to prevent problems arising in the first place. The report clearly notes that advocacy and law reform by community legal centres can address underlying problems and reduce the demand for frontline services.

‘The Federal Government should acknowledge the findings of the Commission and immediately remove restrictions on advocacy and law reform using public funds,’ Ms Bond said.

Ms Bond congratulated the Commission on its detailed recommendations to improve access to justice in Australia, and urged the Federal Government to engage the community legal sector in framing its response.

The Productivity Commission’s report on access to justice arrangements can be accessed here:

http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/access-justice/report

Download this media release (PDF)

To arrange an interview

Darren Lewin-Hill on 0488 773 535

National conference hears widespread concerns over restrictions on advocacy by community legal centres

Thursday 14 August 2014 – for immediate release

A national conference of community legal centres in Alice Springs has heard widespread concern over the impact on disadvantaged clients of restrictions on use of federal funding for advocacy, policy and law reform.

The restrictions place at risk effective law reform work that can prevent legal problems arising in areas such as family violence, homelessness and disability.

The restrictions introduced on 1 July run counter to a draft Productivity Commission finding that advocacy and law reform are central to community legal work.

In practice the broader effect of the restrictions will be that many centres decide not to speak publicly about any issue over fears their funding may be at risk.

The restrictions coincide with significant funding cuts to community legal centres through MYEFO and the May Federal Budget.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus will address the national conference at the Alice Springs Convention Centre 1.30pm today together with Emeritus Professor Jim Ife, of the Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University.

Community legal centres provide free legal help for people who do not qualify for legal aid, but cannot afford a private lawyer – a group that includes a large number of disadvantaged people, including, for example, homeless people and women facing family violence. A conservative estimate by the Australia Institute has found that 500,000 people miss out on legal help every year in Australia.

Available for comment:

Carolyn Bond AO, National Spokesperson, Community Law Australia
Liana Buchanan, Chair, Community Law Australia
Michael Smith, National Convenor,
National Association of Community Legal Centres.

To arrange media comment:

Darren Lewin-Hill
0488 773 535
Communications Manager
Federation of Community Legal Centres

Budget cuts to free legal help hit vulnerable and isolated Victorians

Vulnerable people in outer-suburban and regional Victoria are less likely to get the legal help they need as Federal Government cuts to community legal centres roll out nationally.

“As the human impact of these cuts emerges, it’s becoming clear that they’re hitting vulnerable and isolated Victorians, people who are already missing out and who need help the most,” said Carolyn Bond AO, national spokesperson for Community Law Australia, today.

In addition to $19.6 million cuts to community legal centres nationally, announced last December, there was an additional $6 million cut in the recent Federal Budget. Ms Bond said that despite the Federal Government’s claims that the cuts would not hit frontline services, this was exactly what was happening.

“Victorian community legal centres will either need to reduce the number of lawyers available to help people, turn away more people seeking help, limit the range of problems they can address, or restrict the regional areas they can cover,” Ms Bond said.

Two of the fourteen affected organisations are in regional Victoria, seven in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, and three are statewide specialist legal services.

Services likely to be affected by the cuts include:

• Family violence lawyers helping people with intervention orders;
• Specialist legal advice for regional and remote young people;
• Legal help across high-need, complex, and culturally diverse regional areas.

Lisa Maree Stevens of the Murray Mallee Community Legal Centre, said funding cuts would likely mean that 80–100 vulnerable clients, including Aboriginal women, would miss out on legal help each year if the centre had to cut back on its intervention order assistance and outreach.

“We cover a large geographic area, and our lawyers visit a number of disadvantaged communities, as well as a number of regional courts. When we have to cut back these services next year, there are no other services to pick up this vital work,” Ms Stevens said today.

Ariel Couchman from Youthlaw said their Skype program had been very successful, delivering legal help to young people who couldn’t physically get to services in the big towns and cities.

“The disadvantaged young people we help are facing very tough times in regional and remote Victoria. They are often reluctant to seek help even with homelessness and other serious social problems. Even fewer will do so if our Skype legal advice service is reduced as a result of these cuts,” Ms Couchman said.

Peter Noble from the Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre said the centre was likely to lose one of its three lawyers, who provide legal help across northern central Victoria stretching from Seymour to the Murray River, including the City of Greater Shepparton, one of Australia’s most complex, needy and culturally rich communities.

“We work with other local services to help people address underlying problems, prevent further legal issues arising, and relieve pressure on the courts and legal system. The disadvantaged people we help are usually not equipped to deal with their legal problems on their own, but funding cuts will mean that some of these people will miss out,” Mr Noble said.

Michael Smith from the Eastern Community Legal Centre said funding cuts placed their new services in the Yarra Ranges, and their family violence work, at serious risk. He said both these services had been provided in response to areas of high legal need.

“Without funding, our services must be reduced and people in need will miss out,” Mr Smith said.

“Even before these damaging cuts, community legal centres were already grossly underfunded and struggled to meet increasing demand for help with serious legal problems from people unable to afford a private lawyer. These cuts will only make that situation worse,” Ms Bond said.

“We know that community legal centres are already very efficient in the help they provide, and that nationally at least 500,000 Australians miss out on legal help every year. The answer is funding community legal centres properly to meet increasing need, not cutting their funding,” Ms Bond said.

Further information

Brandis ties NGO funding to non-advocacy

Brandis restrictions starting tomorrow seek to silence community legal centres speaking out on unfair laws, policies and practices

Last chance to be heard for law services, fighting to protect the most vulnerable

Advocacy and frontline services vital to achieve access to justice

Federal budget cuts to community legal centres in the news

Economic benefit of community legal centres strong, says cost benefit analysis

Community legal centres accuse Federal Government of gagging

Download this media release (PDF)

To arrange an interview

Darren Lewin-Hill on 0488 773 535

Budget cuts place free legal help further out of reach for South Australians

People in South Australia are less likely to get the legal help they need, as the Federal Government continues to cut funds to community legal centres.

In addition to $19.6 million cuts to community legal centres nationally, announced last December, there was an additional $6 million cut in the recent Federal Budget.

“The Federal Government says ‘frontline legal services will not be affected’ but these funds currently support significant frontline services,” said Carolyn Bond AO, national spokesperson for Community Law Australia, today.

“South Australian community legal centres will either need to reduce the number of lawyers available to help people, turn away more people seeking help, limit the range of problems they can address, or restrict the regional areas they can cover,” Ms Bond said.

The kinds of impacts these cuts could have include:

  • Thousands of women experiencing family violence denied free legal help;
  • People who want to challenge a decision that affects their income may not be able to get free legal help, particularly those in some regional areas;
  • People who can’t afford a private lawyer for family law, tenancy or debt issues may be turned away by free services, or may need to travel hundreds of kilometres to find help.

Zita Ngor from the Women’s Legal Service SA said the service gave legal help and advice to thousands of women each year.

“We fear we could lose up to half of our funding, which would not only impact on women experiencing family violence who would be turned away, but on their families, on the courts, and on community and health services,” she said.

Mark Leahy from the Welfare Rights Centre SA, which helps people with Centrelink problems, said that for many of their clients, being able to deal with a dispute with Centrelink can significantly impact on a family’s financial security.

“With the funding cuts proposed, we may have no option than to reduce our work in areas such as Cardinia and Port Augusta, where there is high demand and nowhere else for people to turn,” he said.

“Even before these damaging cuts, community legal centres were already grossly underfunded and struggled to meet increasing demand for help with serious legal problems from people unable to afford a private lawyer. These cuts will only make that situation worse,” Ms Bond said.

“We know that community legal centres are already very efficient in the help they provide, and that nationally at least 500,000 Australians miss out on legal help every year. The answer is funding community legal centres properly to meet increasing need, not cutting their funding,” she said.

Alan Merritt from the South Australian Council of Community Legal Services said the State Government provided some funds to community legal centres, and state funding for a new Consumer Credit Legal Service was good news for South Australia. However, with the level of demand for help, a greater commitment was needed from Federal and State governments – not a reduction in Federal funding.

Community legal centres give free legal help to disadvantaged Australians experiencing relationship breakdown, workplace mistreatment, family violence, debt, eviction, homelessness and other legal problems that severely impact their lives. They address the growing gap between people who qualify for legal aid, and those who can afford a private lawyer.

As well as these cuts, the Government has stopped centres doing any policy or law reform work with their funding.

“While it’s a small part of their overall work, community legal centres are in a position to identify repeat problems based on the experiences of their clients to bring about changes that prevent problems in the first place,” Ms Bond concluded.

Further information

Federal budget cuts to community legal centres in the news

Economic benefit of community legal centres strong, says cost benefit analysis

Community legal centres accuse Federal Government of gagging

Last chance to be heard for law services, fighting to protect the most vulnerable

Brandis restrictions starting tomorrow seek to silence community legal centres speaking out on unfair laws, policies and practices

Advocacy and frontline services vital to achieve access to justice

Download this media release (PDF)

To arrange an interview

Darren Lewin-Hill on 0488 773 535

Budget cuts place free legal help further out of reach for Queenslanders

People in Queensland are less likely to get the legal help they need, as the Federal Government continues to cut funds to community legal centres.

In addition to $19.6 million cuts to community legal centres nationally, announced last December, there was an additional $6 million cut in the recent Federal Budget.

“The Federal Government says ‘frontline legal services will not be affected’ but these funds currently support significant frontline services,” said Carolyn Bond AO, national spokesperson for Community Law Australia, today.

“Queensland community legal centres will either need to reduce the number of lawyers available to help people, turn away more people seeking help, limit the range of problems they can address, or restrict the regional areas they can cover,” Ms Bond said.

Six of the affected organisations are in regional Queensland, three in outer suburbs of Brisbane, and two are statewide specialist legal services.

“Regional Queenslanders will be most affected by these cuts,” Ms Bond said.

The types of services that could be affected include:

  • specialist legal services for tenants facing eviction across Queensland;
  • specialist family law outreach services in Coomera;
  • general legal help for the Inala community;
  • family law services on the Sunshine Coast and in Townsville, helping people when their relationships end;
  • statewide legal help for people who have disputes with Centrelink; and
  • legal help with family violence applications at Southport Magistrates’ Court.

“Even before these damaging cuts, community legal centres were already grossly underfunded and struggled to meet increasing demand for help with serious legal problems from people unable to afford a private lawyer. These cuts will only make that situation worse,” Ms Bond said.

“We know that community legal centres are already very efficient in the help they provide, and that nationally at least 500,000 Australians miss out on legal help every year. The answer is funding community legal centres properly to meet increasing need, not cutting their funding,” Ms Bond said.

Community legal centres give free legal help to disadvantaged Australians experiencing relationship breakdown, workplace mistreatment, family violence, debt, eviction, homelessness and other legal problems that severely impact their lives. They address the growing gap between people who qualify for legal aid, and those who can afford a private lawyer.

As well as these cuts, the Government has stopped centres doing any policy or law reform work with their funding.

“While it’s a small part of their overall work, community legal centres are in a position to identify repeat problems based on the experiences of their clients to bring about changes that prevent problems in the first place,” Ms Bond concluded.

Further information

Federal budget cuts to community legal centres in the news

Economic benefit of community legal centres strong, says cost benefit analysis

Community legal centres accuse Federal Government of gagging

Last chance to be heard for law services, fighting to protect the most vulnerable

Brandis restrictions starting tomorrow seek to silence community legal centres speaking out on unfair laws, policies and practices

Advocacy and frontline services vital to achieve access to justice

Download this media release (PDF)

To arrange an interview

Darren Lewin-Hill on 0488 773 535

ACT Attorney-General reveals benefits of law reforms initiated by a community legal centre

Simon Corbell, the ACT Attorney-General, revealed today that reforms introduced a year ago have allowed more than 3,000 vulnerable people to keep their driver licences, reducing their risk of job loss, and helping to cut red tape. To date almost $1million in fines have been recovered by the Government through the new process, with another $3.5 million currently set to be recovered under the new management plan.

The problems faced by vulnerable people who lose their licence because they are unable to pay a fine in full had been identified by Street Law, a program of Welfare Rights Centre. In November 2011, Street Law published a report about the negative impacts of the existing system of enforcing traffic fines.

The report outlined the fines system in Canberra, which did not allow people to pay fines by instalment, and automatically suspended peoples’ driver licences after 56 days. Once the 56 days had elapsed, a person could not challenge the fine in court or seek a court-ordered instalment plan. A person’s licence simply remained suspended until they could pay the fine in full. As a result of the system, many people had their licences suspended because they could not afford to pay their fines.

In May 2012, the ACT Greens, with the support of the Government, passed new laws to address this problem.

This is a clear example of how community legal centres are often in a unique position to identify the impact of laws or processes on disadvantaged people. While there are many examples that illustrate the importance of this work, the ACT Attorney-General has produced concrete figures that illustrate the benefits of changes resulting from a CLC’s policy work.

Policy and law reform work by community legal centres can improve processes and laws, and prevent future problems arising. Governments and law reform bodies regularly seek the views of centres.

The ban on any policy or advocacy work with Government funding (by the Federal Government and some state governments) will stop many centres undertaking this valuable work. There must be a rethink.