National Legal Assistance Partnership 2020-25 Review

National Legal Aid (NLA) welcomes the Commonwealth government review of the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP), the key funding mechanism for Commonwealth investment in Family and Civil Law, as an opportunity to address the critical under-resourcing issues across the legal assistance sector to better support people experiencing disadvantage to access justice. Addressing this issue will better support government and community to improve the wellbeing of some of the most marginalised people in our society.

Legal assistance is an integral part of supporting people experiencing disadvantage to exercise their human rights and be safe, to be financially independent, and to be able to access services and fully participate in the community.

Legal assistance has been significantly under-resourced and there are high levels of unmet need in the community. The Victoria Law Foundation’s ground-breaking report on the Public Understanding of Law Survey (PULS) released this year found over 12 legal problems per 10 respondents, with over half of these being identified as unmet need, and with those experiencing disadvantage having greater unmet need that is more likely to be of longer duration. The main legal problems related to employment, health, safety and housing which, if left unresolved, have major impacts on an individual’s basic needs including income, housing and health and broader impacts not only on the justice system but on service systems such as women’s safety services, child protection, health, disability and policing.

The Access to Justice Productivity Commission Report (PC Report) almost a decade ago outlined the sustainability issues of the legal assistance sector and unmet legal assistance need and recommended immediate investment of $200 million to address this. This did not occur. NLA supports immediate investment across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS), Community Legal Centres (CLCs), Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS) and Legal Aid Commissions (LACs) to address the current deficits. NLA also supports a review of the current NLAP funding model to transform it into a demand-based model that addresses ongoing and forecasted legal assistance sustainability issues and unmet legal assistance need.