04 November 2016

The heads of Australia's eight law societies representing more than 60,000 practising solicitors have called on the Prime Minster to return funding to the legal assistance sector in an open letter to be published in The Australian today.

Gary Ulman, President of the Law Society of NSW said that the legal assistance sector, including Legal Aid, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and Community Legal Centres (CLCs) face significant funding challenges.

"For example, CLCs nationally, will face a Commonwealth funding cut of 30% or the equivalent of $34.83 million over three years, from the first of July next year," Mr Ulman said.

"Adequate legal assistance services are critical in ensuring fairness and efficiency in our court system and essential to providing access to justice for the most financially disadvantaged in our communities," he said.

Mr Ulman said that funding cuts by successive government have had a huge impact on the ability of the legal assistance sector to support those who are the most in need.

"Last year alone, community legal centres across Australia turned away 160,000 people due to reductions in capacity and staff numbers to deal with requests for assistance," he said.

The signatories to the letter also note that huge cuts to legal assistance services are taking place at a time when there is a growing "justice gap" impacting the most vulnerable in our communities.

"The disadvantaged in Australia, particularly Indigenous peoples, are the worst affected group experiencing unmet legal need," Mr Ulman said

"Community Legal Centres, in particular, have a strong connection to their local communities, which enables them to formulate targeted responses to emerging community needs, such as domestic violence.

"They also have a historical role in addressing gaps in legal need which means they have specialisations in areas of law otherwise unavailable," he said.

The signatories are calling on the Government to commit to properly funding the legal assistance in the 2017 Federal Budget, so that they can continue to improve outcomes for individuals and local communities through their reform and advocacy work.

A full copy of the letter is available online at: http://bit.ly/2fFFWDy

For further information about legal assistance funding and to sign a petition go to: www.legalaidmatters.org.au

Media Contact: Jacob O'Shaughnessy 02 9926 0288 or 0413 440 699

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