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Legal aid clients not disadvantaged: study finds.

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18 January 2001



I am pleased to release today the second part of a two-part study comparing privately funded and legally aided family law cases.

The study, Legal Services in Family Law, compares the level of family law services received by self-funded litigants with those received by people who receive legal aid.

It examines whether people who are already disadvantaged in our community are further disadvantaged by not being able to afford a lawyer and having to turn to the legal aid system. It also examines whether the limited pool of legal aid resources is being spent efficiently to help the most needy, not wasted on bureaucratic processes.

While the report identifies the fact that legal aid funding will always be limited, it is encouraging that the report concludes that legal aid clients do not appear to be disadvantaged in relation to outcomes achieved or the quality of the services they receive. In fact, it appears that legally-aided clients are more realistic and satisfied than self-funded litigants about the outcome of their family law cases. In general, legal aid clients were more likely than self-funding litigants to strongly agree that the result of their case was what their lawyer led them to expect. They were also more likely to strongly agree that they had some control over the result of their case and to be satisfied overall with the result of their case.

The report found that this difference may be due to the operation of the

legal aid merits test. That is, self-funding clients are more likely than legal aid clients to be able to run a case with questionable merit and to be consequently disappointed by the result. To me, this vindicates the Government’s view that it is not appropriate to shell out money to every person who wants to have their day in court. It demonstrates that legal aid money is effectively and realistically targeted at those who have a reasonable chance of success.

This study was jointly funded by the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Finance and Administration and was undertaken by the Law and Justice Foundation (formerly the Justice Research Centre).

Part one of the study, titled Family Law Case Profiles, was completed in 1998. It compared the profiles of self-funded and legally aided clients and their cases.

The second part of the study also concludes that legal aid commission in-house lawyers appear to operate more efficiently and effectively than do private sector legal aid lawyers. They achieve quicker outcomes, which are closer to what legal aid clients originally wanted, and with no discernible differences in service quality.

These positive findings are a credit to the work being undertaken both in legal aid commissions and by private practitioners undertaking legal aid work.

In addition, the study also found that the major impact of the rates paid for legal aid work is a reduction in the number of private solicitors prepared to undertake legal aid work in family law. There was no discernible reduction in the quality of work performed for legal aid funded clients.

The Commonwealth will carefully consider the findings of the Legal Services in Family Law study. At the same time, the Commonwealth remains committed to helping people who do not meet the criteria for legal aid representation. We have made considerable efforts to ensure that all Australians have cheaper and faster alternatives to the courts for resolving or avoiding disputes. This is what most Australians want to see in our legal system and it is the best way to deal with the demand for

traditional forms of legal assistance in the future. 


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