It’s budget night, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight a body that is in desperate need of funding, but which fails to grab the spotlight of the media and the attention of the public. That body is Legal Aid Victoria, which is in the midst of a funding crisis.
Faced with a predicted loss of over $3 million this year Legal Aid has had to cut services, leaving thousand of people out in the cold as they are no longer eligible for free legal representation. The decision to reduce services was made in early January and affects those in the early stages of family, criminal and civil law matters. People in these circumstances are some of the most in need of free legal representation.
An increase in funding by the federal government is needed as its share of funding has dropped dramatically, falling from about half to less than a third of the State’s contribution since 1997. This fall has affected not only Victoria, but all States and Territories.
Budget papers from the Victorian State Government show that Legal Aid is set to provide 4141 fewer grants of legal assistance and 1170 fewer duty lawyer services this year, when compared to 2011-2012 as a direct result of the funding deficit that currently exists.
The State government provided an additional $3.4 million in funding in last week’s state budget, however Bevan Warner, the managing director of Legal Aid stated that this would allow for the body to continue delivering the reduced services, but would not be enough to restore services.
While any increase in funding by the commonwealth could only be spent on federal law matters, it would go a long way in restoring services in family law matters.
Liana Buchanan who is the executive director of the Federation of Community Legal Centres believes that the federal government should provide an additional $48 million in funding to the centres in order to maintain the services currently offered to families.
The Law Institute of Victoria has said that if no increase in funding is made available Legal Aid stands to lose closer to $10 million next financial year.