Funding model for legal assistance inadequate, independent review finds

May 30, 2024 |

An independent review of legal service funding by Dr Warren Mundy has found that current levels of funding are insufficient to meet Australia’s legal assistance needs.  

The review drew on evidence from a range of sources, including published literature, workforce data analysis, government reports and inquiries, and consultation with stakeholders including the Federation of Community Legal Centres (Federation) and Community Legal Centres in Victoria.  

The National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) 2020-2025 is an agreement between the Federal Government and all states and territories for Commonwealth Government-funded legal assistance. As the current agreement is set to expire next year, a review was conducted to review the effectiveness of the current arrangements and make recommendations on how funding to the legal assistance sector should be made into the future.  

The Federation supports the recommendations made in the NLAP review, which includes many of the recommendations made by the Federation in a submission to the reviewer last year. 

The Victorian community legal sector has urged both Federal and Victorian governments for additional funding for a sector in crisis. However, neither Federal nor Victorian governments responded adequately to these evidence-based calls in this year’s budgets. 

According to the Victoria Law Foundation’s Public Understanding of the Law Survey, 78 per cent of legal need in Victoria is unmet.  

"Government has treated service providers like sporting clubs tendering for funds to renovate a block of change rooms”, said Dr Mundy in the report. 

The Federation supports the recommendations made in Dr Mundy’s report, in particular: 

  • Additional funding for civil legal assistance services, including early intervention and mediation, to allow legal assistance providers to offer a greater number of services and prevent unresolved civil matters becoming criminal matters.  
  • Funding for disaster responses that recognises the growing need for place-based legal assistance for people experiencing climate related disasters. 
  • Resetting funding for community sector providers to reflect the true costs of operating sustainable organisations. 
  • Additional funding to increase the remuneration of both legal and non-legal staff working in Community Legal Centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services to equivalent pay as that of the Legal Aid Commissions in the respective jurisdiction. 

Louisa Gibbs, CEO at the Federation said: 

The national community legal sector has worked together to advocate for a funding model that supports the life changing work that Community Legal Centres provide  around the country. Community Legal Centres are doing it tough, and the funding crisis is increasingly impacting their ability to deliver vital legal services to people in the community experiencing hardship.  

“We welcome Dr Mundy’s report, which recognises the importance of providing community legal assistance and clearly articulates the urgent need for additional funding to Community Legal Centres to enable them to carry out the amazing work they do.  

“We hope that the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments uses this opportunity to reflect on the essential role of Community Legal Centres in delivering access to justice, and invests in the preventative services that they provide to resolve legal issues before they escalate.” 

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