New data reveals extent of community benefits from access to legal aid services
The Law Council of Australia has expressed its support for ‘The benefits of providing access to justice’, a PwC report commissioned by the National Legal Aid that seeks to quantify the economic benefit derived from Legal Aid services funded by the Government and identify their beneficiaries. The Law Council welcomed the report as part of an evidence base for legal aid challenges such as lack of funding.
“The civil and family law services provided by legal aid commissions are a bulwark against further hardship and marginalisation,” said Law Council of Australia president Luke Murphy. “Unfortunately, these services have remained undervalued and underfunded by consecutive governments.”
The Law Council, which previously advocated for improved government funding of the legal assistance sector, said that the report highlighted the value investing in legal aid programs brought to the community and country.
The PwC report defined three general categories of benefits directly derived from legal aid services or access to them:
- Efficiency of the justice system or the improved operational capacity of the courts from reduced caseload and time to finalisation,
- Value to individuals or the benefits derived by individuals who achieve improved legal outcomes, and
- Wider government and societal outcomes or the benefits derived by government and society when an individual achieves an improved legal outcome through access to legal aid services.
The report highlighted the impact of legal aid commission services to eliminating family violence in Australian communities and supporting the wellbeing of victim-survivors. In turn, legal aid commissions helped the Government avoid shouldering the expense of domestic and family violence incidence, children entering out-of-home care and related legal expenses, and mental health-related services.
“[Investing in the legal aid sector] not only improves outcomes for many of Australia’s most vulnerable and marginalised people but is also critical in delivering vital savings for governments which can be used elsewhere,” Murphy said.
The National Legal Aid found that for every dollar invested in family and civil law legal aid services by the Government, an equivalent benefit of $2.25 was delivered to communities. Since Commonwealth funding for legal aid services was around $267 million per year, legal aid commissions in effect provided more than $600 million in social and economic benefits.
Earlier this year, the Law Council told Treasury ahead of the May Budget that current Commonwealth funding for the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP), including for legal aid commissions, were only at half the level required to meet demand on the sector.
“In considering the Federal Budget and the imminent review of the NLAP, the Law Council calls on the Australian Government to heed the advice of this report and properly recognise and invest in the family and civil law services provided by our Legal Aid Commissions, in addition to improved funding for the entire legal assistance sector,” Murphy said.
Murphy clarified that the legal assistance sector consisted not just of legal aid commissions but community legal centres, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services.