Legal help out of reach, says new campaign

Community Law Australia launches a campaign in Canberra today to improve access to legal services across the country and ensure that people in need are not missing out on legal support.

An estimated 500,000 Australians are missing out on legal assistance every year, Community Law Australia highlights in a new report, Unaffordable and out of reach: The problem of access to the Australian legal system.

Campaign spokesperson Hugh de Kretser said that the crisis in access to the legal system was caused by the high cost of legal fees and the chronic underfunding of free legal services like community legal centres.

“An estimated 500,000 Australians each year are missing out on the legal help they need, mainly for financial reasons.

“People don’t budget for legal fees for issues like marriage breakdown, unfair dismissal, eviction, discrimination, getting ripped off or debt problems. Most Australians would find it difficult to pay for a lawyer for anything but the most basic legal issue. When they turn to government funded legal services for help, they find that due to chronic funding shortages, many people can’t get the help they need.

“Community legal centres are often the first port of call and help many people who can’t afford the cost of a private lawyer but don’t qualify for help from a legal aid commission.

“Australians who are underpaid by their employer, struggling with debt issues, or victims of family violence seeking legal protection need community legal centres but often find it difficult to access overstretched services.

“Community legal centres across the country are under extreme pressure and do not have the resources to meet the demand for their service. Many communities don’t have access to a community legal centre at all.

“Unless we act to improve access to the law, people in need of legal help will continue to fall through the cracks.

“We can’t ignore this crisis any longer. We need a major investment from government to ensure our stretched legal centres can meet the overwhelming demand,” Mr de Kretser said.

Natalie Liosatos from Toora Women Inc said that without access to CLCs the women who use the service would have no ability to access their legal rights.

“Women we support, who are often victims of family violence, frequently require legal assistance and advice to navigate what is a complex and costly court system.”

“We see the value of better funding for and increased access to community legal centres on a daily basis,” said Ms Liosatos.

The campaign launch and press conference with spokesperson and community lawyer Hugh de Kretser and Natalie Liosatos, from Toora Women Inc. will be held at 10am, Monday 16 July 2012 outside the High Court of Australia, Parks Place, Parkes, Canberra.

The report and related documents can be downloaded below (PDF).

Unaffordable and out of reach: The problem of access to the Australian legal system
Legal help out of reach, says new campaign
Community Law Australia Launch Document