Tasmania's lawyers anxious about possible funding cuts to legal aid

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  • Vanessa Goodwin
    Australian politician (1969-2018)

Legal experts are concerned Tasmania's already struggling legal aid service will take a further hit if 11th-hour pay pause negotiations betweens the Government and unions fail.

Labor's Lara Giddings used parliamentary question time to ask Attorney-General Vanessa Goodwin if Tasmania's legal aid was already in crisis.

"Courts are being clogged up with people forced to try to represent themselves, and with your real term cuts to legal aid, staff are being shed," she said.

"Attorney, just how many people are being turned away everyday from legal [aid] and what are you doing to address the crisis?"

Dr Goodwin said Tasmania's Legal Aid Commission would be impacted by budget cuts if the public sector pay freeze was scrapped.

"We haven't cut funding to legal aid but of course there was the impact of the pay pause built into the budget savings around legal aid," she said.

"So we're waiting to see what the outcome of that is obviously but if we don't see a result in relation to the pay pause then, of course, there will be an impact on legal aid as well."

Legal aid funding issues 'not new problem'

The president of the Law Society of Tasmania, Anthony Mihal, said the legal profession was deeply concerned about further cuts.

"The access to justice crisis in our courts must be urgently addressed with new funding for the Legal Aid Commission of Tasmania," he said.

But Dr Goodwin said the funding issues with legal aid was "not a new problem".

"It's an ongoing concern... it was a concern under your (Lara Giddings') government and it's remained a concern that there isn't sufficient funding for everyone who needs legal aid," she said.

Mr Mihal conceded the Legal Aid Commission had been unsustainable for years but he said further cut to its funding would cause chaos in the courts.

"The commission already cannot afford to pay private practitioners a viable rate to undertake legal aid work and it cannot afford to pay its own staff," he said.

"It has recently shed over 10 per cent of its staff.

"The lack of criminal lawyers is already causing chaos in the courts."

He urged the Treasurer to rule out funding cuts to legal aid.

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