Community Law Australia has written to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Attorney-General Senator Brandis and Greens Senator Penny Wright to ask them to outline their plans to address the access to justice crisis.
Community Law Australia campaign spokesperson Carolyn Bond said that despite recent increases in funding, there was still huge unmet demand for free legal help among Australians who can’t afford to pay for a private lawyer.
“Access to justice is a major issue for people in regional areas, women struggling with family violence issues, people being ripped off by financial institutions, and people with credit and debt problems,” Ms Bond said.
“Community Law Australia is seeking each party’s response to this crisis to ensure that the public is fully informed before Election Day about what they plan to do to improve access to justice and reduce unmet demand for legal help.
“63 per cent of community legal centres report unmet demand and 85 per cent were forced to tighten or restrict service levels in order to meet demand for their services.
“Conservative estimates by the Australia Institute suggest that half a million Australians are missing out on the legal help they need each year.
“Unresolved legal problems can often escalate, causing financial, social and health problems. It saves money overall to provide access to legal help for Australians who can’t afford a lawyer. It’s also vital in ensuring that everyone is equal under the law.
“Unlike the Australian health and education systems, there is no universal safety net for legal help, Community Law Australia’s 5 point plan outlines what this safety net should look like.
“The plan calls for a doubling of funding, better regional access, central referral and information services in each State, recognition of law reform work and action to address areas of high demand like family violence, employment, debt, tenancy and consumer issues.
“Legal problems can crop up at any time – but access to quality legal help shouldn’t depend on your bank balance or where you live. We look forward to each party’s response to this crisis,” Ms Bond said.
Community legal centres provide free legal help to people who can’t afford a private lawyer. They assist with problems such as housing, employment, consumer issues, debt and family violence, and are often a source of early advice and assistance to help prevent problems from escalating. Community Law Australia is a campaign advocating for a proper safety net for legal help, by a coalition of CLC peak bodies and led by the National Association of CLCs.
Read Fairfax coverage: Law bodies demand answers on legal aid crisis