Change to Legal Aid Delivery Model Urged - Report
14 October 2015 at 11:16 am
A PricewaterhouseCoopers report for the Law Institute of Victoria has recommended changes to the service delivery model of Victoria Legal Aid to improve access to scarce legal aid resources.
Law Institute President, Katie Miller, said the Institute hoped that the PwC scoping study would feed into the imminent Victorian Government Access to Justice Inquiry.
Miller said the LIV had advocated for increased legal aid funding for many years.
“Demand for legal assistance is continuing to grow while funding from State and Federal Governments has not kept pace,” Miller said.
“The model for delivering legal aid services has not fundamentally changed since it was introduced in the 1970s. The challenges of the 21st Century are weighing heavily upon the legal aid model and it is timely to look at what can be done to help all involved – clients, Victoria Legal Aid lawyers, private lawyers and the courts.
“Legal aid representation is only available to the most disadvantaged people in our community and many people with family law, criminal law or civil law problems are missing out.”
The LIV said the objective of the report was to look at current challenges in the delivery of legal aid services in Victoria and to propose a new model that provides access to justice and high quality legal aid representation.
The key recommendations of the report include that Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) could give consideration to adopting consultative arrangements that ensure stronger representation of the LIV and the Victorian Bar, as well as other justice system representatives and existing efforts to improve data collection, information sharing and coordination across the Victoria justice system should continue.
The report called on VLA to disclose the relative, if not actual, costs of using in-house lawyers and private practitioners with a view to informing system-wide decisions about allocating legal aid funds.
The report also highlighted that there has been a 29 per cent increase over four years in the number of criminal matters being commenced in Victorian courts.
“We can speculate about the reasons but these include changes to sentencing laws, increased numbers of police and the focus on family violence offences,” Miller said.
The report also examined the cost of legal aid services provided by VLA and found, based on publicly available information, that it appears that on average legally aided criminal and family law matters managed by private practitioners are less costly.
It also found data to test these findings was not available, and recommended further study was required.
Miller said it was in the community’s interest that access to justice was both available and affordable.
“We hope this report will result in improved allocation of legal aid funds in the future and a greater involvement from private lawyers in funding decisions, given that they provide approximately 70 per cent of legal aid services,” she said.