THE Law Society of WA wants candidates in the upcoming State Election to make a public pledge for adequate funding for legal assistance.
The professional association for solicitors and barristers is seeking a commitment of $8 million for starters to boost legal assistance and provide funding for legal assistance long term.
Law Society president Alain Musikanth said the system for legal assistance was in crisis with no hope of improvement without adequate funding.
“Around 10,000 Australians a year are being forced to represent themselves in court because they can’t afford a lawyer,” he said.
“This includes the most vulnerable members of our community – women who are escaping domestic violence and who are forced to face their abusive former partners in court without a lawyer to assist them. In the first three weeks of January alone, the Mental Health Law Centre had to turn away 25 requests for legal assistance.
“Due to funding cuts, Legal Aid WA can no longer assist people by providing representation in the court.”
He said people were desperate and had nowhere else to turn.
“The Law Society is asking candidates in the election to make a public commitment to proper funding,” Mr Musikanth said.
He said successive Federal and State government funding cuts had pushed the sector to breakpoint and now even people living below the poverty line did not necessarily meet the means test.
The Productivity Commission has recommended Federal and State governments invest an additional $200 million in legal assistance funding for civil matters, with the State Government’s proportion of that amount an additional $8 million.