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Canberra Family Law – Budget 2014 and family law: update – Law Council of Australia

By May 19, 2014No Comments

Some analysis of the Budget’s impact on family law services in The Australian today, and the Law Council of Australia weighs in, calling the cost-cutting measures “counterproductive”. Read the full stories below. For any questions about family law processes which may give clients a quicker result, not reliant on court timetables, speak to Cristina Huesch, Accredited Specialist, about collaborative family law.

“Attorney-General George Brandis’ report is justice delayed”

By Nicola Berkovic, The Australian

THE Family and Federal Circuit Courts have been spared the full force of the budget axe, despite being in line for cuts of up to $30 million.
This comes when warring couples face delays of up to two years to resolve family disputes and after the Attorney-General George Brandis was handed a ­report by KPMG on court performance and funding.
The budget removed almost $4m in government funding from the courts — a cut of ­2.5 per cent. The courts’ chief executive, Richard Foster, said the reduction from $152.6m in 2013-14 to $148.8 in 2014-15 formed part of the commonwealth’s ongoing efficiency dividend.
Mr Foster said the courts were waiting for the government’s response to the KPMG report to determine their future funding and resources. “The outcome of that report will provide the most significant understanding on how the courts continue to deliver services,” he said.
The Coalition vowed before the election to save $30m by “streamlining” Family Court processes. However, barristers and solicitors have warned that the courts’ stretched resources are causing delays to family hearings and compromising the welfare of children and women at risk of violence.
Senator Brandis said he was committed to ensuring the courts operated as effectively and efficiently as possible, and could provide “easily accessible services” for the resolution of family disputes.
“The courts need efficient and sustainable funding models to ensure they can serve the Australian community effectively, even in times of fiscal constraint,” he said. The government was considering the KPMG review and the Productivity Commission draft ­report on access to justice and had sought the courts’ input.
Opposition legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus said all courts were under pressure to deal with disputes in a timely way with limited resources. However, delays caused by a lack of available judges were not acceptable.
“The saying justice delayed is justice denied is particularly true of family law matters, where the uncertainty of protracted litigation can only aggravate an already difficult situation that frequently arises in family law disputes,” he said.
Greens legal affairs spokeswoman Penny Wright said the Attorney-General needed “to be honest” about whether he ­intended to cut $30m from ­family law processes.
Calling for urgent action to ensure the courts and legal assistance were properly funded, Senator Wright said the government needed to take account of the indirect costs of court delays, including the impact on families and mental health. “The justice system is fundamentally broken when people are waiting up to two years to resolve family law disputes,” she said.
Senator Wright said it was time for Senator Brandis to “end the secrecy” and release the KPMG report on the performance of the federal courts. “Taxpayers paid for this report and they deserve to see the findings.”
The Law Council of Australia this week hit out at the Coa­lition’s decision to cut $15m in funding to legal aid services.
Law Council president Mic­hael Colbran QC said what was needed was an additional $80m for the chronically underfunded services.
Source (first view free then behind paywall):


“Chronically underfunded legal aid commissions suffer further cuts in federal budget”

by Vanessa Kleinschmidt, Law Council of Australia

The Law Council of Australia has said an additional $80 million in funding was required in tonight’s budget not a reduction of $15 million and has called on the Federal Government to rescind its announced cuts to legal aid and to commence the process of reinstituting a sustainable funding model to ensure legal aid remains accessible to disadvantaged Australians.Law Council of Australia President, Mr Michael Colbran QC, said the $15million in cuts to legal aid announced tonight will have a significant impact on the capacity of already chronically under-funded legal assistance bodies to provide legal services to many Australians.

“The Law Council acknowledges the Government’s primary objective of finding budgetary savings is to reduce the federal budget deficit but these cuts will ultimately create a net burden  for the economy and work counter to the Government’s objectives.

“Actuarial studies of return-on-investment in Legal Aid Commissions and Community Legal Centres have repeatedly demonstrated that funding cuts to legal assistance services are more likely to result in greater downstream costs for the economy and society as a whole,” Mr Colbran said.  The Law Council has consistently shown over many years that the level of funding provided to legal assistance services is unsustainable–it is clear that those organisations require urgent additional funding in order to meet increasing demand for legal services. “The Law Council calls on the Federal Government to commence the process of reinstituting the government’s funding arrangement to a 50 per cent share with the states and territories.

“Up to 1997, the Commonwealth contribution to Legal Aid Commission funding was 55 per cent –current funding stands at 35 per cent.

“The attached table demonstrates the structural re-adjustment required in each successive budget from 2012 to 2016 to bring the Commonwealth’s contribution to legal aid to at least 50per cent.

“Successive Federal Governments have short-changed legal aid over the last two decades with the Commonwealth transferring massive costs on to the states and territories –this simply cannot continue,” Mr Colbran said. Law Council of Australia Access to Justice spokesperson, Dr David Neal SC, said tonight’s funding cuts will lead to further massive cuts in frontline services. “Legal Aid Commissions have been forced to impose ever more stringent means tests and quotas on the services they provide.

“The means tests are so stringent that some people who qualify for pensions or benefits do not qualify for legal aid,” Dr Neal said.In Victoria alone cuts in grants of legal aid over the last three years mean that an additional 11,000 people will confront the legal system without legal aid and without the means to pay for legal representation themselves.


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