By David Weber
Disturbing new figures highlight the need for more legal assistance for victims of domestic violence in family law cases, says National Legal Aid.
The group said a recent audit of work done by Legal Aid Commissions showed domestic violence was a factor in 79 per cent of legal aid family law matters.
The highest incidence was in the Northern Territory with 88 per cent, while Western Australia had the worst figure of the states with 84 per cent.
This was closely followed by Victoria with 81 per cent of cases showing domestic violence as a factor.
The chair of National Legal Aid, Suzan Cox QC said even the lowest incidence — 72 per cent in Tasmania — was still too high.
“It’s very high, it’s not acceptable,” she said.
“We are after funding to be able to assist more people which do have domestic violence issues in their family law matters.
“But at the moment we just can’t reach those people due to a very mean means test which we have to apply for grants of aid to applicants.”
Ms Cox said the data showed how vulnerable people found themselves with a “perfect storm” of legal problems — when low-income domestic violence victims could not afford lawyers.
In actual numbers, domestic violence was a factor in more than 21,000 legal aid family law matters across the nation.
Ms Cox said the funding bucket was “under resourced”.
“The Productivity Commission report, which is just now over 500 days old, recommended that $120 million needed to be immediately injected into the legal assistance sector.”
Ms Cox said the recommended breakdown was $120 million from the Commonwealth and $80 million from the states and territories.
She said funding announced as part of last year’s Women’s Safety Package would not be enough.
National Legal Aid requires more funding: Chair
National Legal Aid has welcomed the report by the Council of Australian Governments Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children, which was provided to COAG on April 1.
The panel reported that it heard of how a lack of funding for service providers affected their ability to meet demand, and develop programs in the long term.
And demand was expected to increase in response to greater public awareness of the issue of violence against women and their kids.
Ms Cox said she hoped COAG would act on the issue directly to allow legal aid commissions to do their job.
“We really require an injection of funding, the cases are very serious,” she said.
“As more publicity has focused on the issues of domestic violence, people are going to want to have assistance with their matters and that’s a good thing, but for us, who’ve been dealing with this issue for many decades now, we need the money to be able to assist more people.
“Navigating through the family law system is very complicated and a lot of these people have related issues, such as debt recovery, property matters and that sort of thing.”
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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