The under-granting of legal aid to private professionals by the Legal Aid Commission may increase the number of people unrepresented in court and add to the backlog of cases.
Law Society of Tasmania president Evan Hughes said lawyers do not have the time to fight for every dollar and this is a disincentive for them to take on legal aid cases.
When people do not have access to lawyers though legal aid, “that’s when you start to see the system failing”, Mr Hughes said.
Mr Hughes said lawyers were having to fight for payments as little as $70, meaning their work often results in a net loss for commercial firms.
“We’re not talking about huge amounts of money,” Mr Hughes said.
“Instead of providing the correct amount they have been shaving if off and undercutting it.”
Mr Hughes said the Law Society had raised a number of concerns about the under-granting of legal aid with the Legal Aid Commission.
The commission responded it has departed from long-standing policy and the decision to under-grant is made in reference to the information provided as to merit, stage of matter, current court practices, previous grants and funding priorities.
“That the commission would unilaterally change the way aid is granted, not consult with or inform the profession and then expect that the profession has or will accept the new position by a perceived lack of outcry is beyond acceptable,” Mr Hughes said.
“Aid is being further diminished by systematic under-granting.”
Mr Hughes said he wished to see the restoration of the original arrangement, where lawyers received a set payments for legal aid cases they took on.
“It’s about time there was money put back in the system,” Mr Hughes said.
A government spokesperson said guidelines for granting aid were ultimately a matter for the Legal Aid Commission.
“The Hodgman Liberal Government has in recent years provided record state funding to support the commission to ensure their important work continues to be carried out a high standard,” the spokesperson said.