Continuation of vital family law funding welcomed

14 December 2023

National Legal Aid (NLA) has welcomed the MYEFO commitment to providing $17.1 million to Legal Aid Commissions across Australia in recognition of the ongoing impact of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) reforms.

The FCFCOA reforms, whilst essential in aiming to provide early resolution of family law matters, have created unforeseen effects on the provision of family law legal assistance including increased workloads and consequently, a reduction of available family law legal aid lawyers. 72% of all legal aid grants are delivered by private practitioners.

“We are pleased to see the provision of this family law funding as it is critical in the context of a legal aid system that is not keeping up with demand and struggling to retain lawyers to undertake this vital work.” said John Boersig, A/Chair National Legal Aid.

“For example, in NSW there were 162 approvals for court-based mediation in 2020-2021 and in 2022-2023 over 1120 were approved. In Queensland it is estimated that there has been a 32% reduction in the availability of family law legal aid lawyers since the FCFCOA reforms.”

The much-needed funding will enable Legal Aid Commissions to continue to resource the additional hours of work required of lawyers and to help meet the increased demand for family dispute resolution resulting from the FCFCOA reforms.

National Legal Aid’s recently released Justice on the Brink Report identified that an additional $69 million a year is needed to address the erosion of legal aid fees with average payments reducing $31 per hour over the last decade in real terms.

The report also found that the Commonwealth pays its own lawyers between 70 and 226 per cent higher than the Legal Aid fees paid.

The legal assistance system is currently being reviewed by the Federal Government with a report due in early 2024.

“Private lawyers are an essential part of the legal aid system, and they undertake complex work that supports some of the most marginalised people in our community including women and children who are escaping domestic and family violence.

The provision of this funding is a good first step in what we hope will be ongoing and increased investment in Legal Aid by the Federal Government over the next few years.”

Contact: Katherine McKernan, Executive Director, National Legal Aid 0425 288 446.

Download the NLA media release