Midland: legal lifeline for domestic violence victims vulnerable to funding cut

DOMESTIC violence victims in need of a legal lifeline are among those most vulnerable to another welfare funding cut.

Midland Information, Debt and Legal Advocacy Service (Midlas) general manager Justine Clarke said the centre would need to turn away another 25 per cent of clients following the latest funding reduction.

“This funding shortfall equates to at least 250 potential residents not receiving any help locally,’ Ms Clarke said.

From July 1, the only paid lawyer service at the centre will reduce from four to three days a week because of the funding shortfall.

Volunteer legal students and pro bono interns support the centre with about 100 hours a week of unpaid assistance.

The centre recently secured another three-year grant from the Public Purposes Trust, a fund administered by the Law Society.

But the award allocation fell from $110,000 to $105,000.

Ms Clarke said there was no consideration made for any increase in costs over the period of a PPT grant and with other funding reductions, Midlas could not sustain a legal service of four days a week.

The need for free legal assistance in the Midland area continues to increase and Midlas has no choice but to turn away disadvantaged people.

“The real crux of the matter is that Midland has never received any Commonwealth or State Government funding, despite the fact that legal needs analysis has identified Midland and the surrounding area as an area of distinct and significant need,” Ms Clarke said.

Midlas is the only centre in the Midland area providing community legal services to eastern suburbs residents after Legal Aid withdrew in June last year.

From January 1, 2015 to March 31 this year, the centre provided 314 clients with legal assistance associated with domestic violence, criminal injury claims and minor family law.

Centre staff had to refuse 685 legal inquiries.

The community excellence and disability award finalist also provided services in financial counselling, emergency relief, tenancy and disability funding.

According to the Attorney-General’s Department, Midlas operates outside the State’s Community Legal Centres program.

“The Public Purposes Trust is funded by its investments and interest accrued on solicitors’ trust accounts. Applications are assessed by an allocations committee independent of the Law Society and the Government, with recommendations submitted to the Attorney General for approval,” an Attorney-General’s Department spokeswoman said.

“The WA Government recognises the enormous value provided by community legal centres and will provide funding of $3.65 million in 2016-17 towards their ongoing operation.”

Executive Director of the Community Legal Centres Association (WA) Helen Creed said the situation at Midlas was indicative of the crisis in legal assistance, following successive funding cuts from the Commonwealth and State Governments.