Media Release: Broad calls for legal assistance funding focus on law week

As National Law Week draws to a close, the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) has called on the Federal Government to listen to the chorus of voices that have expressed support for legal assistance services and concern about looming funding cuts this week.

‘This week we have seen thousands of people come out in support of legal assistance services at events and rallies across Australia’ said Daniel Stubbs, NACLC National Spokesperson.

‘We have heard individual clients, judges, community organisations and lawyers across Australia talking about the importance of legal assistance services, the impact of cuts, and the downstream costs to individuals, the community and governments of failing to invest in legal assistance’.

‘We have seen national and local media including in a number of rural and regional areas covering the impact of funding cuts in communities’.

‘Despite all this, Community Legal Centres continue to face a 30% cut nationally from 1 July next year, amounting to a $34.83 million cut over the forward estimates. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services are also facing cuts, and the underfunding of Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and Legal Aid Commissions continues’.

‘It is disappointing that neither major party has committed to fully reversing the funding cuts facing the sector, investing the funding the Productivity Commission recommended was necessary and urgent, or to adequate and sustainable long-term funding’.

Mr Stubbs welcomed the support of organisations like the Law Council of Australia which has launched a ‘Legal Aid Matters’ campaign. ‘It has been heartening to see so many individuals and organisations come out in support of the sector this week, as well as more broadly. It shows just how important access to free legal help is and the strong view that the Government isn’t doing enough to support the sector’.

This Law Week, NACLC reiterates its calls 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 to legal assistance services, 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/Territories)
  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.

To arrange an interview or for more information please contact:

Daniel Stubbs, National Spokesperson, 0437 253 543
Amanda Alford, Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645
Jo Scard, Media Adviser, 0457 725 953

Launch of new campaign: Community Law Australia—Fund Equal Justice

Leading community lawyers from across Australia will meet in Canberra tomorrow to brief Members of Parliament and Senators about the work of Community Legal Centres (CLCs) and call for urgent action to help people missing out on legal help.

The new national campaign, Community Law Australia—Fund Equal Justice, is being led by the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC). The campaign is being launched against the backdrop of rising demand for legal help, but funding cuts to crucial Community Legal Centre services.

“Community Legal Centres provide essential legal help to those in need. While family violence and family law are the top specialist areas for CLCs, we provide a range of legal help to people across a range of legal areas, including debt, employment, housing, social security, and child protection” said Rosslyn Monro, Campaign Spokesperson and NACLC Chairperson ahead of the launch.

“New figures released today from the NACLC 2015 Census reveal that CLCs are turning away more than 160,000 people each year. However, there is a looming 30% cut to national Community Legal Centre funding next year under the new National Partnership Agreement for Legal Assistance Services” said Ms Monro.

“In the context of a relatively small overall budget for CLCs, these funding cuts of between $11m and $12m every year between 2017 and 2020 will have a significant impact on CLC service delivery, and therefore on the ability of people seeking legal help to receive the help they need. For example, a 30% cut to Commonwealth funding nationally is likely to lead to 36,435 fewer clients assisted and 45, 644 fewer advices provided” added Ms Monro.

NACLC calls on the Federal Government to:

  • reverse the national funding cuts to CLCs under the National Partnership Agreement (amounting to $34.83m between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2020)
  • immediately inject $120m per year into the legal assistance sector, consistent with the recommendation made by the Productivity Commission, including at a minimum $14.4m per year to CLCs and appropriate amounts for Family Violence Prevention Legal Services, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Legal Aid Commissions, and
  • commit to developing a process for determining sustainable long-term funding contributions to the legal assistance sector

For further information or to arrange an interview contact:
Rosslyn Monro NACLC Chairperson, 0407 633 084
Amanda Alford, NACLC Director Policy and Advocacy, 0421 028 645

Innovative community legal service in women’s hospital helps to stop family violence

Community Law Australia today commended the work being done to address family violence by North Melbourne Legal Service and the Royal Women’s Hospital (the Women’s) through their innovative legal assistance outreach project Acting on the Warning Signs.

The project, funded by the Legal Services Board major grants program as well as in-kind support from Herbert Smith Freehills, aims to build the capacity and willingness of health professionals to identify family violence and provide basic information to patients who require it.

Since December 2012, training has been provided to over 125 staff including 27 doctors to empower them to identify signs of family violence and offer referral and assistance. Between 1 August 2012 and 1 November 2013 legal advice was given to 73 patients on site at the Women’s by lawyers from North Melbourne Legal Service.

Dr Fleur Llewelyn, Manager of Clinical Education at the Royal Women’s Hospital said she was proud of the achievements made by the pilot program thus far.

“By having a lawyer available on-site, women are able to access information about their rights and entitlements within the safety of the hospital,” she said.

“Women who are in situations where they may be experiencing chronic abuse and violence are able to attend the hospital for an antenatal appointment and see a lawyer who can provide them with advice about their rights and entitlements, including information about intervention orders and family law.

“This is a powerful opportunity to empower women to take steps to escape a violent situation.”

Community Law Australia spokesperson Carolyn Bond said the success of the program indicated that there may be scope for similar partnerships between community legal centres and health providers.

“Legal problems often occur in conjunction with social, economic or health problems, so it makes sense for legal and non-legal services to work together – particularly in helping deal with complex issues like family violence.

“This is just one example of CLCs working well with other service providers to help solve connected legal, social, health and financial problems. This work is taking quality legal assistance one step further by delivering our legal services in partnerships and in locations which work best for the people who need our help.

“A recent survey of Victorian CLCs found that the vast majority of CLCs delivered legal services alongside other community services. Whether it is at a rural community health service, in conjunction with financial counselling services or at drug and alcohol clinic, this innovative CLC work is about early intervention and prevention and helping people holistically. Access to justice research strongly suggests this is the way to go,” Ms Bond said.

Download this media release (PDF)

Guarantor case ‘exemplar of the critical work done by community legal centres’ says Judge

An all too common problem seen by some community legal centres is that of vulnerable – often elderly – people who have been coerced into signing up as co-borrowers or guarantors for loans for their children or other relatives.

Lenders usually benefit financially from the agreements.  The lender decides that the borrower is a high risk – and isn’t prepared to take the risk of providing the loan.  However, in these circumstances the lender is prepared to see a parent to take the financial risk – often by mortgaging their home.  Some of these loans are business loans, and the risk of failure is high.  The consequences of failure are that the guarantor or co-borrower will probably lose their home.

Caxton CLC has a specialist elder peoples legal clinic, as well as a specialist credit practice.  It is therefore no surprise that these types of problems come to Caxton.  Bridget Burton, the credit lawyer from Caxton, says that the centre receives so many requests for help in these types of cases, they are unable to help everyone who seeks help.

Judge Kingham recognised “critical work done by community legal centres” in a recent case where Caxton CLC represented two guarantors.

I’m not aware of the details, and my comments above may not apply in the case heard by the Judge.  However, the guarantors had taken many years to purchase their house from the Housing Commission. Their home, adapted to the meet the special needs of the fourth defendant and their disabled son, is no longer at risk of sale.

Judge Kingham said: “The guarantors are not in a position to pay for legal advice. They have been most ably and generously assisted by experienced and capable professionals. This case is an exemplar of the critical work done by community legal centres and by the solicitors and  barristers who offer assistance to those who cannot afford their services.”

See:
http://archive.sclqld.org.au/qjudgment/2013/QDC13-152.pdf

By Carolyn Bond

Funding provides vital community lawyer support for family violence and first new community legal centre in Melbourne’s fringe since 2005

Community Law Australia today welcomed increased funding to ensure that the Eastern community legal centre (ECLC) could service more people in need of legal help. Continue reading