Free Newsletter sign-up
how fascism works

Search Justinian
Justinian's news stories

Judicial speedster ... Full Federal Court bounces another decision from Sandy Street in the Federal Circuit Court ... Conduct of the hearing "fell short of what was desirable" ... Inadequate reasons in another review heard by Street required the full court to rehear the application ... Read more ... 


Justinian Columnists

Two Aunties ... The long history of ABC dramas and threats to the public broadcaster's independence ... Churchill led the way with attacks on the Beeb ... Litigation that reinforced independence ... The buffeting will never stop ... Procrustes tunes in ... Read more ... 


 

 

This form does not yet contain any fields.

    "It appears that, of the very large number of motions on which my office's views are routinely sought, this one was not escalated to me because it was interpreted in my office as a motion opposing racism. The associations of the language were not picked up. Had it been raised directly with me those issues would have been identified."  

    Attorney General Christian Porter after tweeting that the Senate motion, "It's OK to be white", confirms that the "government deplores racism". October 16, 2018 ... Read more flatulence ... 


    Justinian Featurettes

    The Chaser's Julian Morrow gets serious on Justinian's Couch ... An escapee from the law who came into our lives as a comedian and satirist ... The joys of employment law could not hold him ... Now the master of ceremonies at Continuing Professional Development Under the Influence ... Read more ... 


    Justinian's archive

    Capital offences ... Fabulous Phil Ruddock works his magic on the family law amendments ... The next Lord Haw Haw is probably lurking in the ranks of the press gallery ... Bunter Downer lays the ground for a few more executions of Australians by our friendly neighbours ... Polly Peck reports ... From Justinian's archive, December 12, 2005 ... Read more ... 


     

    « Fresh disruption | Main | Dot and the dinosaurs »
    Thursday
    May242018

    The wide and deep "missing middle"

    Funding models and costs for legal services ... A voice from deep within Victoria Legal Aid ... Bare-boned applicants for legal aid ... Federal funding the lowest for 20 years ... Peach Melba on the barricades 

    Amid all its fanfare about tax relief, the federal government's budget shows that it is not spending on under-resourced public services. The crisis in funding for the public legal sector is so great that on May 10, the Senate passed a motion calling on the government "to reverse the downward trend in legal aid funding". 

    Senator Stirling Griff (Centre Alliance, SA), who moved the motion on National Pro Bono Day, said that the federal government's contribution to legal aid has fallen to its lowest level in 20 years.  

    The structure of the community legal system means that when there's a shortfall from the top, the ripple spreads wide. 

    State legal aid services provide legal assistance not only through their own lawyers, they also provide short and long-term funding to community legal centres, such as Melbourne's Fitzroy Legal Service. 

    Fortunately, in Victoria the state budget has allocated an extra $37.3 million to Victoria Legal Aid over four years. This is to enable VLA to meet the increased need for legal services resulting from the government's injection of $97 million for police prosecutors.

    Nonetheless, legal need in Victoria far outstrips the resources of community legal services. The eligibility requirements for a VLA grant of aid are very difficult to meet - based on an income and assets means test. 

    An applicant will qualify for a grant if they, and any financially associated person, have a net disposable income of $360, or less, a week. 

    Any more than that, and the applicant is required to pay an initial contribution from their income towards their legal costs. 

    For the purposes of the assets test, VLA does not count equity of up to $500,000 in a principal home. This means that an individual with property, but low income, may be eligible for funding, while an applicant who does not own a house, but has more cash flow, may not. 

    Such strict requirements result in a "missing middle" - individuals who aren't eligible for legal aid funding, but do not have the resources to retain a lawyer for the entirety or a part of their legal matter. 

    National Legal Aid, in its submission to the Productivity Commission's Access to Justice paper stated that the difference in the cost of a lawyer at market rate is significantly higher than the legal aid rate, resulting in a "significant justice gap".

    When it comes to financial barriers to access to justice, two factors feed in. 

    Legal aid is underfunded, which in turn means community legal centres are underfunded. The private legal sector operates on a user pays business model, underscored by a significant tension - firms want their lawyers to notch up as many billable hours as possible, whereas the interest of the client is to pay as little as possible for the legal work.  

    Predictably, disagreements between lawyers and clients over costs gives rise to many disputes, at a high enough volume that the Supreme Court of Victoria deals with them at the Costs Court.

    The Legal Profession Uniform Law stipulates that "law practices must not charge more than fair and reasonable amounts for legal costs". 

    However, fair and reasonable hourly rates for lawyers are determined by the market, which is a creature of convention, supply and demand. 

    At this tier of the legal system, clients are viewed as consumers who are charged what they will bear. 

    The market reality of the distribution of legal services, and the "missing middle" it creates, is so entrenched in the legal system that the federal funds required to fix it are beyond reasonable expectation. 

    Nonetheless, funding cuts directly affect access for those who might otherwise currently qualify for aid. 

    From Elif Sekercioglu, who is an intern at Victoria Legal Aid and a volunteer at Fitzroy Legal Service 

    Reader Comments

    There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.
    Member Account Required
    You must have a member account on this website in order to post comments. Log in to your account to enable posting.