THE impact of wide-ranging cuts to Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) has been revealed, with documents showing that more than 8000 vulnerable people are expected to miss out on legal representation in the state’s courts this year.
Documents obtained by the Law Institute of Victoria under freedom of information reveal that 5294 adults accused of low-level crimes who do not face imprisonment are expected to miss out on legal representation.
The VLA documents show that a further 979 youths are also expected to miss out on representation.
Law Institute of Victoria president Reynah Tang said changes to VLA guidelines resulted in an intellectually disabled woman spending four days in jail.
“The change was related to our magistrates courts in saying that she can’t have direct legal representation in those magistrates courts unless you are facing jail,” he told Jon Faine on ABC 774 yesterday. “In this case, because she was supposed to be out on bail and didn’t turn up in court she got jailed.”
The cash-strapped VLA announced cuts to its eligibility guidelines last year as it braced itself for a $3.1 million loss this financial year.
Mr Tang said the state’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged people were not getting a fair go in the justice system.
“We have great concerns this will lead to miscarriages of justice and people will end up pleading guilty to an offence to avoid going to court and representing themselves,” he said.
Mr Tang called on state and federal governments to increase VLA funding.
Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark said the state government was providing record levels of funding to VLA, and would contribute more than $400 million over the next four years.
He said there was a shortfall of federal funding, with the Commonwealth providing VLA with $244 million over the next four years compared to a traditional 50/50 funding ratio.
He said VLA guidelines for state-funded matters were “very similar” to those applied in other states.
Documents show that 8158 people will miss out on legal representation this year, saving VLA $10.7 million.
Mr Tang said thousands more people would have reduced rights.