Community Law Australia today welcomed the Greens projected policy on the access to justice crisis but called for other parties to reveal their plans to tackle the growing demand for legal help, which is rising out of step with legal assistance sector resources.
The Greens outline a range of measures to address the rising problem of access to justice, including doubling funding to Community Legal Centres in 2014-2015; Doubling Indigenous Family Violence Prevention Legal Services funding, a 50% increase in Legal Aid Commission funding, and a reduction in Court fees to 2010-11 levels.
Community Law Australia campaign spokesperson Carolyn Bond said that the Greens had some positive initiatives around funding, but it remained to be seen if the major parties were going to reveal their plans for access to justice before the election.
“The Greens policy shows they have a good understanding of the crisis and what needs to be done to address this problem in our community.
“Community Law Australia has recently written to the Attorney-General and Shadow Attorney-General to seek clarification of the Labor and Liberal parties plans to address the growing demand for legal help and how to improve access to justice for those who cannot afford private lawyers,” Ms Bond said.
“Community lawyers provide quality, free legal help with problems around housing, employment, consumer issues, debt and family violence.
“The Greens make some excellent suggestions to help the sector manage demand, however there is still more to be done to break down the barriers for people seeking legal help.
“It is clear that this problem will not go away without significant attention by the government of the day.
“Voters deserve to know where all parties sit on this important issue. Often access to legal help from a CLC can make a huge difference to people’s lives – it can mean being able to keep your house, protecting yourself from unfair fines or contracts, or legal assistance to escape a violent relationship.
“Fair and equal access to justice is a vital component of a well functioning society – ensuring that people can access their legal rights is as important as access to healthcare and education, and yet we do not have a proper safety net in place to prevent people falling through the cracks.
“Conservative estimates suggest that half a million Australians are missing out on legal help each year, but with 63 per cent of community legal services reporting unmet demand, this figure may be higher.
“If cost of living is a pressure, imagine if an expensive legal matter suddenly arose – for many Australians, they would struggle to manage this problem without assistance. Having access to quality, free legal help is a vital resource and more needs to be done to ensure that people aren’t missing out,” Ms Bond said.