Members of the Association of Legal Aid Lawyers have voted 97% in favour of withdrawing their services April 1. Lawyers who do legal aid are not employees of the Legal Services Society (LSS) but are contracted by the society to provide legal advice and representation services.
Should the withdrawal happen, people in need of legal aid can expect some gaps in service. However, we remain committed to taking all reasonable steps to help people during a withdrawal, and to prioritize those who are in the most vulnerable situations.
LSS intake and local agent offices will still accept legal aid applications, however, there will likely be longer wait times on the LSS Call Centre and Family LawLINE. Parents Legal Centres will also continue to provide services to families who are at risk of having a child removed from their home or have had a child removed by a social worker for their protection.
What we know so far is there will be a significant impact on those appearing in court charged with a crime. We still expect some family duty counsel will be available in many courthouses on family court days, however the situation could change.
Immigration services will likely be affected, though at this time LSS expects to be able to cover immigration duty counsel for those in detention. We are working on alternatives for those needing to fill out refugee claim applications.
LSS will make efforts to find lawyers willing to take contracts to help vulnerable clients and refer people we cannot help to other resources.
LSS regrets that lawyers find themselves in the position of having to withdraw legal aid services to make their case for increased funding. However, LSS has regularly stated that lawyers who do legal aid work are not adequately paid for the value they bring to assisting people with multiple barriers to accessing justice.