Legal Aid in funds crisis, says report
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