Western Australia’s Legal Aid board warns a plethora of reasons has pushed Legal Aid into crisis.
According to The West Australian, the legal aid board outlined problems of the system in its 2016 annual report.
In the report, Legal Aid board chairman Stuart Shepherd noted that the expected decrease in funding meant that representation for traffic matters is unlikely to be restored in the future.
The category was excluded from matters that people can request assistance from legal aid for in the hopes of reducing the burden on the system, but since the change, demand for services has fallen just over a percent, the report noted.
Shepherd also highlighted that it is expected that Legal Aid faces a “major strategic challenge” as funding decreases and arrests for serious crime is expected to keep increasing.
Meanwhile, Legal Aid WA director George Mitchell said that legal aid is being overwhelmed because aside from dealing with funding cuts, community legal centres are also being funded less which increases need for Legal Aid.
“More people will present to Legal Aid WA for assistance, or choose not to resolve their legal problem. Either outcome is problematic,” Mitchell said in the report.
The publication also noted that case resolution in Western Australia courts are increasing in length with the Attorney-General’s latest annual report indicating “time-to-trial” in criminal cases before the Supreme Court was 36 weeks or eight weeks over the 2015-16 target.
A “senior judge” recently noted that delays in criminal cases being handled by District Courts are unlikely to ease until the next half of 2017.
West Australia’s Legal Aid crisis is not an isolated case, however, with other programs in other states facing the same problems.
This has prompted the Australian Bar Association to recently suggest augmenting legal assistance funds from sin levies on the alcohol and gambling industries.
“We know Australia’s legal assistance services such as legal aid and community legal centres throughout the country are in crisis and everyday Australians are being denied access to justice as a result,” said ABA President Patrick O’Sullivan QC.
O’Sullivan said, however, that the Bar Association also knows that “governments are working with increasingly strained resources.”
Saying they’re not encouraging less funding, the organisation said that other sources of funding should be considered.
The issue of legal aid funding cuts were also recently highlighted because of the Northern Territory youth justice scandal.