Tasmanian Legal Aid board halved

JUSTICE: Lawyers protest against federal cuts to Legal Aid.
JUSTICE: Lawyers protest against federal cuts to Legal Aid.

The state government will this week table legislation to halve the Legal Aid board, following recommendations from a former judge.

Last year, former Supreme Court justice Peter Evans undertook a review of the Legal Aid Commission of Tasmania.

Attorney-General Vanessa Goodwin told Parliament on Wednesday the legislation “provides for continuity of knowledge and expertise and enables a smooth transition to the new structure by providing for transitional arrangements for the membership of the board”.

“Mr Evans noted in his review that this recommendation was not a reflection on the dedication and skills of current and past members of the Legal Aid Board, but is consistent with other legal aid bodies nationally that have moved towards smaller skills-based boards,” Dr Goodwin said.

“As well as ensuring the commission’s board is structured to operate efficiently and effectively, a smaller board means savings of approximately $20 000, which the commission can put directly towards providing legal assistance for Tasmanians.”

It comes as Tasmanian lawyers protest against federal cuts to Legal Aid and community legal services, warning the courts will come to a standstill when the services cop a 30 per cent cut in the 2017-18 financial year.

Community Legal Centres chairwoman Jane Hutchison said the cut would mean many Tasmanians would go to court unrepresented, further clogging the system.

“Next financial year we can maintain our services at the current levels, from the next financial year with a 30 per cent cut it’s huge,” Ms Hutchinson said.

The state government has stepped in and provided the services with $500,000 in additional funds.

During budget estimates last week it was revealed almost 400 cases were backlogged in the state’s courts.

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis’ office has said the Coalition delivered $1.6 billion for legal aid commissions, community legal centres and Indigenous legal assistance services.