ACCESS TO JUSTICE: A HUMAN RIGHT FOR EVERYONE
A traumatised woman is ruthlessly cross-examined in a family court by the man who abused her and their children. She can’t afford a lawyer and her ex-partner doesn’t have one, so she must endure the frightening experience alone.
A child not yet 10 is the victim of his own broken family. It’s not his fault that his parents can’t provide a safe home for him. But still, he is left without a voice – even when a magistrate says legal representation is in his best interests.
An 18-year-old engages in consensual “sexting” with a 15-year-old girl. This is legally considered child pornography. He is unlikely to go to jail so he is denied a lawyer – even though he can be placed on the sex offenders register and his future is in jeopardy.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING IN VICTORIA RIGHT NOW?
For too many years, federal and state governments have been under-funding legal aid. And now the poorest people are paying the price.
Disadvantaged people who were previously eligible for legal aid are now being deprived of legal representation, following changes to Victoria Legal Aid's guidelines around who can get help.
This raises the risk of miscarriages of justice, and puts people’s futures at stake.
Just as we expect our governments to provide good healthcare and education, legal representation is a fundamental human right that should be available to everyone – not just those who can afford it.
Don’t let governments turn their backs on the poorest people.
You can help by joining us in urging federal and state governments - and federal and state oppositions - to give legal aid the attention and funding it needs. Join us, and make access to justice an election issue.
Sign the petition.
And to: Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark MP and Shadow Attorney-General Martin Pakula MP
With the federal election to be held on 7 September, and the state election looming next year, this is an opportunity for each of you to demonstrate leadership on the fundamental issue of access to justice.
I am deeply concerned about the legal aid funding crisis, which has serious consequences for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people.
Access to justice is a fundamental human right for everyone. But the poorest people are missing out on legal representation. This raises the serious possibility of miscarriages of justice.
It is unacceptable that men and women who have been abused are at risk of being cross-examined in a family court by their accused ex-partner without a lawyer to help them.
It is unacceptable that people can’t get legal aid assistance unless they are at risk of going to jail, regardless of the consequences of a conviction. Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence, and minimum standards of legal representation.
It is unacceptable that children under 10 risk being left without a voice in child protection proceedings – even when a magistrate decides legal representation is in the child’s best interests.
We as a society have a moral obligation to help those in need. But we are letting down the poorest and most vulnerable.
At a federal level, I seek a commitment to restoring the Commonwealth contribution to legal aid to 50% as it was before 1997, so that we have a true partnership between the federal and state governments.
At a state level, I seek a commitment to maintain existing funding, and also to increase funding to reflect growing demand caused by law and order reforms.
I also seek a review of Victoria Legal Aid's funding guidelines, to ensure they do not breach the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
Please give this issue the urgent attention it needs.