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Legal aid funding lack hits Australian courts

16 May 2016

At least 45,000 Australians have been forced to represent themselves in court due to a crisis in legal aid funding, the Law Council of Australia says.

The Council has launched a campaign entitled Legal Aid Matters, aimed at urging all major political parties in Australia to properly fund legal aid.

The campaign is calling for $350 million, with an immediate injection of $200 million into legal aid.

A Law Council analysis over the five years from 2009/10 to 2013/14 says that at least 45,000 Australians appeared in courts nationally without legal aid as a direct result of a lack of funding.

Law Council President Stuart Clark AM says this equates to almost 10,000 people per year being denied representation.

"Lives are being ruined because people who encounter legal problems cannot afford a lawyer to present their case effectively. Legal aid funding is now so scarce that even many Australians living below the poverty line aren't eligible," he says.

"It isn't just Australia's most disadvantaged missing out. Many middle-class Australians can't afford to pay for legal representation and are forced to front the court alone."

Mr Clark says the figures only relate to court representation, which is nowhere near the complete picture.

"In fact, figures released this year by Community Legal Centres show that they are turning away more than 160,000 people each year."

He says Australia now spends half of what the United Kingdom does per capita on legal aid.

New Zealand

In the year to 30 June 2015, New Zealand payments to legal aid providers were $130,215,953.30. Statistics New Zealand estimated the New Zealand population at 30 June 2015 at 4.6 million, giving a per capita expenditure on legal aid of around NZ$28.31.

Comparative up-to-date information on Australian per capita spending on legal aid has been hard to find, but an August 2015 analysis by the Canadian Forum on Social Justice stated: "Canada spends [around CAD$23.10] slightly less in per capita terms on legal aid than Australia where per capita spending is about CAD$24.76 and slightly more than New Zealand at about CAD$21.31."

Last updated on the 16th September 2019