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Moratorium required - stop the cuts to legal aid



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No.2/97

5 February 1.997

"Justice is, after all, a right not a privilege."

JiVflVJ.J1N VVII, '1-1141 t- ARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY

SENATOR THE HON NICK BOLKUS SHADOW ATTORNEY GENERAL SHADOW MINISTER FOR JUSTICE LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

MEDIA RELEASE

MORATORIUM REQUIRED - STOP THE CUTS TO LEGAL AID

"Prisoners may be walking free from our jails because they cannot get legal aid," Shadow Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Senator Nick Bolkus said today. "This is further proof that our legal system is in crisis."

In today's Sydney Morning Herald, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Nicholas Cowdrey QC, admitted that a man charged with possessing S5 million worth of heroin may walk free beacuse he cannot get legal aid funding as a direct result of the Federal Government's cut of $120 million.

At least one case in South Australia has been similarly affected. And this morning on ABC Radio 2CN, the ACT Attorney-General, Mr Gary Humphries, admitted that a further 6 cases in the ACT could also be affected.

"The Attorney-General has bungled these cuts from the start," Senator Bolkus said. "Mr Williams has already admitted that he got the figures wrong when he was trying to determine how much of our legal aid expenditure arises under Commonwealth or State law.",.

"And today's predictable news proves that that distinction is artificial in the first place. Either the Federal Government is committed to the national war against drugs or it is not - it shouldn't matter what law a person is charged under."

"But the bad news doesn't end there. Last week, officials from the Attorney-General's Department admitted in hearings before the Senate's Legal Aid Inquiry that they had not thought about the impact of the cuts when making the decision. They also admitted that the Federal Government has not yet even begun to consider how it will administer the legal aid

system if New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT decide to go it alone -as they have threatened to do."

"The legal aid system is teetering on the edge of the abyss. And the whole legal system is set to follow."

"The Attorney must announce a 12 month moratorium on the cuts to legal aid immediately. He should also announce the formation of a national inquiry into the legal system to consider not only the future of the cuts to legal aid but also a major review covering access to and equity in our justice system." cierp, Ira F•TaTXV rr,

Contact: Simon Banks Ph: (0(3) 277 3388 (WI) or 0419 63 85 87 (m) Fax: (06) 277 3062

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