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Access to justice in reverse?



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national association ot community legal centres

Community Legal Centres have called on the Corr m onwealth Government to honour pre-election promises to maintain funding for legal aid.

Concerns about funding to centres and legal aid commissions have arisen as a result of recent developments in Canberra including:

• a letter from the Com monwealth Attorney General to State Governments terminating the current Com monwealth State funding agreements for legal aid commissions; and • leaked memos which show that the Attorney Generals Department will be

asked to save $32 million dollars, but that little or none of these savings will come from reductions in Departmental staff.

"If funding is not maintained at current levels, thousands of Australians who cannot afford to go elsewhere will miss out on essential legal services" said Gordon Renouf, Convenor of the National Association of Community Legal

Centres (NACLC).

"Clients affected include wom en seeking legal projection from violence, citizens in dispute with powerful institutions such as banks or governments, people trying to resolve family disputes and tenants w ho have been wrongfully evicted.

"Community legal centres provide assistance to people who are particularly vulnerable to exclusion from legal assistance inclu ling children, older people and people with disabilities, Two thirds of people using our services are on pensions or benefits. Most of the balance are on low incomes.

"We estimate that CLCs provided legal advice, representation, or referral to over 300,000 people in 1994-95. The number of clients and the demand for services are increasing rapidly New projects provided by the Justice Statement last year are intended to meet some of this demand.

Attention: Director News News Date: 09 July 1996 Date: 09 July 1996 Embargo: Nc ne

Access to justice in reveme ?

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"We have just had a very long, very detailed evaluation of the justice system. It reported that there were major barriers to justice for many Australians. It resulted m m easures which had broad support intruding moderate increases in

funding for legal aid and community legal centres It would be a crazy waste of resources if the new Governm ent was to come along and set the justice system in reverse." he said

'W e are sure that tire Attorney General is avcare oi the importance of legal aid. We hope he knows that it is already struggling. We call on him to ensure that his colleagues in Government do not cause Lrrepanble damage to the justice System while in pursuit of short term economic gods."

"Any cut in funding to com m unity legal centres w ould immediately result in reduced services. They are very lean operations.

"Beyond the effect of direct cuts to centres, any reduction in the ability of legal aid commissions to meet client needs would cause huge increases in demand for CLC services. Civil law matters are the most lixely to be cut. Community legal centres already provide a significant proportion of services in this area.

"The idea of 'justice' is fundam ental to our civil society. Access to justice happens through legal systems and institutions. Lsgal aid is supposed to guarantee this access. The fram ework for providing legal aid in Australia in precariously overbalanced. It doesn't risk a p u sh /

More information: Gordon Renouf, Convenor, bh: 08 8941 3394 ah: 08 8948 2414 or 041 6101 898 Irish Blake, National Funding Representative, bh: 09 430 22£2 ah: 09 295 2084 or 015 773 705 Tony Westmore, Coordinator: 041 925 6339 or bh: 02 264 9535 ah: 02 365 6067

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