Drop in Legal Aid lawyers a concern for the most vulnerable

Since the ‘crackdown’ on the legal aid system last year lawyers have been fleeing from being available to clients who have no other way of paying for their services.

In 2006 the government were told that if they increased the number of people eligible for legal aid, there would be cost increases, the government of the day did allow more people on legal aid, then when the bills came in they ‘freaked out’ and pulled the rug out from under the system.

Over the past year or so the number of legal aid lawyers working in the family courts has halved from over 2,000 to around 1,100. The number of cases hasn’t dropped, the demand hasn’t halved, but the number of lawyers has. This means the family courts will now start to run even slower, with the most vulnerable in society finding it even harder to find a lawyer.

It’s the beginning of having the wealthy be able to ‘buy’ justice, when the poor have no chance. I say that as if it isn’t currently like that…I guess I say that with a little optimism.

Lawyers who currently receive legal aid are subsidizing the tax payer by accepting a lower fee than required. The current legal aid rates are set at 1997 levels, which means the rate paid hasn’t gone up in 15 years and with the new ‘fixed fee rates’ and ‘onerous paperwork’ many lawyers are running for the hills.

Where is the line between the ‘waste’ they we were told about, and ensuring that those that need the help can get it?

If the lawyers are running from the new system doesn’t that mean that those we should be thinking about, the ones who need assistance, will start to fall through the cracks? I agree that there is not a simple ‘one size fits all’ solution, but initial reports would seem to confirm that this National Government has come at this issue with too heavy a hand.

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