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Law council renews its attack on legal aid cuts

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Federal cuts to legal aid funding should not proceed until a new agreement had been negotiated with the States and Territories, the Law Council of Australia said today.

Law Council President Michael Phelps said legal aid was already hopelessly underfunded, and the Law Council was concerned that Canberra's plans for further reductions on two fronts would deny thousands of people their right to access to justice.

"Legal aid funding is presently shared by the federal and state/territory governments at a ratio of 55 to 45 per cent, but the Commonwealth is proposing a review of the formula whereby its annual funding increases (based on inflation and average wage earnings) would fall from 3.2 per cent to 2.1 per cent," Mr Phelps said.

"Recently I met the Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, to protest against this reduction in legal aid funding, arguing that a drop of this magnitude would mean a cut of $23.2 million from the total legal aid budget over the next four years.

"Now we find today that the situation is much worse than this, with the Commonwealth apparently proposing that it restrict its legal aid funding to cases involving only Commonwealth law.

"This could well mean, as has been reported in this morning's press, that a further $100 million or more in Commonwealth legal aid funding could be lost to the States and Territories, as the Commonwealth claims that only about 30 per cent of all legal aid matters are Commonwealth cases.

"It's a disastrous situation, and those least able to defend themselves will be the worst hit."

This afternoon, in a letter to Mr Williams, Mr Phelps renewed his argument that legal aid litigants should not be disadvantaged during the period in which the Commonwealth was renegotiating legal aid funding arrangements with the States and Territories.

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Media inquiries: Brian Hill (06) 247 3788 or 0411 236007. Mr Phelps will be available for interviews in Canberra this afternoon.

The National C ouncil of L awyers 19 To r r e n s S tr eet B r a d d o n A C T 2612 G P 0 Box 1989 Ca n berra A C T 2601 Telephone : (06) 247 3788 Internal : +616 247 3788 Facsimile : (06) 248 0639 DX5719 Ca n berra