Legal Aid Review

I am definitely in favour of reviewing the current legal aid entitlement... Especially in the cases of Family Court. It is possible for the recipient of legal aid to spend alto of time discussing trivial matters without attempting to come to a resolution.

For example, the cost of discussing the choice of kindergarten location, for 1 hour, might be as follows

  • $350 for mediator and room costs
  • $250 for lawyer for child
  • $250 in legal aid to parent who is entitled to legal aid. This parent has little impetus to fast track a resolution.
  • $250 for parent not entitled to legal aid. This parent will eventually give in as the cost of arguing the issue becomes more expensive than the costs incurred for "driving further" to the alternative kindergarten.

That's a total of $850 per hour for tax payer, and $250 for 1 parent. And no cost to the other party, who has no cause to speed up the process.

I believe that issues involving kindergarten and extra curricular activities should not be given any court time, but should be diverted to "relationship counselling" at a approximate cost of $90 per hour (6 sessions = $540). Cost to be absorbed by both parents directly, without legal aid. Then at the end of 6 sessions, if the parents have not come to agreement, the counsellor should be empowered to make a decision on their behalf. If one parent incurs no cost to make a decision, they just don't have any reason to do anything except hold out for what they want.

Some User Pays / Faster Repayment

Although the principle of legal aid, is that those who are financially disadvantaged should be given the same justice as those who have the means, I believe that legal aid can so easily be abused and cause injustices in the other direction.

I would like to see all users of legal aid paying a nominal 5% of the costs directly, so if a lawyer costs $200 per hour, then the recipient would be paying $10 towards that cost. This is the theory we use for health and education. Health is just as important as justice, and if we want to choose our doctor, we need to pay a little to wards that. If we want to choose our lawyer, the same rule should apply. Paying $10 towards the costs would cause us to take control and ensure that the lawyer works efficiently. Remembering that the tax payer is still picking up the other 95% of the tab.

The user pays approach could be on a sliding scale. Currently people earning up to $50000 can receive full legal aid. I would encourage a situation of a sliding scale, so that those on benefits might only pay $10 per hour, and those who earn $25 per hour ($50k p/a), might contribute $25 per hour. A sliding scale would ensure that middle income earners would take control of their lawyers time, and provide a benchmark of efficient lawyer behaviour, so that less scrupulous lawyers are identified.

I would like to see repayment of legal aid happening at the same speed as student loans. All legal aid should be a loan, and repayments should have the same criteria as student loans. We receive the legal aid based on need, and we repay our debts based on ability. Knowing that there is a very real chance of repayment required would encourage more people to take control of limiting the cost of justice to the taxpayer.

Waivers of Costs

If someone is found innocent, the legal aid debt could be written off.


Posted: Monday 2 May 2011


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