Le­gal Aid in funds cri­sis, says re­port

Pilbara News - - News - Tim Clarke

WA’s le­gal aid cri­sis is deep­en­ing, with fears that dwin­dling fund­ing could mean that in fu­ture, low-in­come de­fen­dants fac­ing se­ri­ous crim­i­nal charges in the State’s high­est courts may not get funds for a lawyer.

The an­nual re­port of WA’s Le­gal Aid board re­veals that even though le­gal aid fund­ing has been re­moved for any­one ap­pear­ing on traf­fic mat­ters in mag­is­trate’s courts, the de­mand for ser­vices has fallen by only a lit­tle over one per cent.

Le­gal Aid board chair­man Stu­art Shep­herd said the pre­dic­tion of fur­ther falls in fund­ing meant it was un­likely that rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the mag­is­trate’s court would be re­in­stated in the near fu­ture.

He also flagged that if funds kept dwin­dling and ar­rests for se­ri­ous crime kept ris­ing, as has been the case this year, the “fi­nan­cial ca­pac­ity to con­tinue to pro­vide grants for these se­ri­ous mat­ters is emerg­ing as a ma­jor strate­gic challenge for the com­mis­sion into the fu­ture”. In the same re­port, Le­gal Aid WA di­rec­tor Ge­orge Mitchell said ma­jor re­duc­tions in fund­ing for com­mu­nity le­gal cen­tres meant Le­gal Aid was likely to be needed even more, while less funded.

“More peo­ple will present to Le­gal Aid WA ... or choose not to re­solve their le­gal prob­lem,” he said. “Ei­ther out­come is prob­lem­atic.” The Gov­ern­ment has re­vealed that the time taken to re­solve crim­i­nal cases be­fore WA courts is con­tin­u­ing to rise.

In the Depart­ment of At­tor­ney-Gen­eral’s an­nual re­port, the me­dian “time-to-trial” fig­ure for crim­i­nal mat­ters in the Supreme Court was 36 weeks — eight weeks more than the tar­get for 2015-16.

More peo­ple will present to Le­gal Aid WA ... or choose not to re­solve their le­gal prob­lem. Ge­orge Mitchell

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