Actor Michael Caton Says Legal Aid Matters
23 June 2016 at 5:01 pm
Aussie actor Michael Caton has joined the fight to restore funding for legal aid.
The star, best known for playing Darryl Kerrigan in the 1990s movie The Castle, a working-class man who engaged a pro bono lawyer to fight city hall for the “law of bloody common sense” and save his family home, has lent his voice to the Legal Aid Matters campaign.
The campaign, led by the Law Council of Australia, is calling on the next federal government to end the crisis in legal aid by properly funding what they refer to as a “vital justice safety net”.
In an online video Caton calls on people to sign the Council’s petition because “as we all know, legal aid matters”.
“Here in Australia I’m sure that we all believe in justice for all, but unfortunately justice doesn’t come cheap,” Caton said.
“I think a lot of us labour under the miscomprehension that in the event of a legal problem that we will be entitled to some sort of legal aid, now this is not the case.”
According to the Law Council of Australia only 8 per cent of Australians are eligible for legal aid under the current means test, while 14 per cent of Australians are living below the current poverty line.
“That’s akin to having a Medicare system that represents only 8 per cent of the population,” Caton said.
“Over the last five years cuts have meant that 45,000 people failed to obtain legal aid in Australia, can we honestly say to them that our legal system delivers equality before the law?
“Now who were the people suffering most? Some of our most vulnerable people… They are women attempting to obtain the protection of the courts in family violence cases, they are young people facing criminal prosecutions in magistrates courts, they are ordinary people fighting a bank or insurance company that could put them out on the street.
“This is the fault of one federal government after the other and they have been cutting legal aid for years, they used to provide 50 per cent of the funds, now they only provide 33.”
According to an independent national poll commissioned by the Legal Aid Matters campaign earlier this month Australians are overwhelmingly in favour of universal legal aid availability.
More than 80 per cent of respondents either strongly agreed (47.6 per cent) or agreed (33.8 per cent) that in Australia, anyone who encounters a serious legal issue, but cannot afford a lawyer, should be able to rely on legal representation being provided through legal aid.
Law Council of Australia president Stuart Clark AM, said the result should cause both major parties to drastically reassess their priorities.
“This election, we need all political parties to support the eight of 10 Australian’s who rightly believe that legal aid should be there for them if they need it,” Clark said.
“Unfortunately, the overwhelmingly majority of Australians believe they have a right to something they simply cannot access in the vast majority of cases… legal aid funding is so scarce that even if you’re living below the poverty line, you’re unlikely to qualify.
“People are being forced to represent themselves in court and it’s destroying lives.”
Clark said that every way you look at it; there is a compelling reason to end the legal aid crisis.
“The legal profession has made the access to justice case. The Productivity Commission has made the economic case. And now the public has made the popular case,” he said.
“Access to justice is a basic human right and it is one that Australians rightly feel entitled to. Legal representation should not be exclusively for those wealthy enough to afford it. We know that due to the cuts, around 10,000 people per year are being forced to front the courts alone.”