Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Law Council calls for Civil Unions

The Law Council of Australia, Australia's peak lawyers' body, has published its list of issues to be raised with the political parties ahead of the Federal election.

The most relevant family law issues are:
- a call to increase funding to legal aid;
- a call for there to be gay marriage or civil unions; and
- a call for the establishment of a Comonwealth Judicial Commission in a smilar way to that of NSW, so that proper complaint can be made about the behaviour of Commonwealth judges.

Now for the detail....

Legal Aid Initiatives
It is well documented that legal aid funding is
insufficient to meet the needs of disadvantaged
persons in the community, particularly Indigenous
Australians and people living in rural and remote
areas.
There has been a decrease in overall legal
aid funding in real terms since 1996 and the
estimated additional one-off amount required
to restore funding even to 1996 levels is
approximately $100M. This increased legal aid
budget should then be used as the basis for future
legal aid funding.
Since 1996 a number of studies have identified
significant consequences of the decrease in
funding including a large increase in selfrepresented
litigants causing considerable delays
in and associated costs to the court system.
In addition to the decreases in overall real
funding since 1996, the introduction of new
Commonwealth legal aid policies and guidelines
in 1997 meant that legal aid funding for civil
matters was virtually abolished. Civil matters are
disputes (not involving family law, child welfare
or de facto property matters) between persons
and other individuals or government. The 1997
policies and guidelines effectively restricted legal
aid to criminal and family law matters. The Law
Council estimates that an additional one-off
allocation of $40M is needed for a civil legal aid
scheme. The resulting increased legal aid budget
should then be used as the basis for future legal
aid funding.

With expansion of Commonwealth legislation
and significant sustained budget surpluses it is
critical to re-establish a civil legal aid system to
meet the demand for legal services, particularly
in areas such as employment law, consumer
protection, immigration and social security.
In light of the recognised difficulties facing
Indigenous Australians, particularly in rural
and remote areas the Law Council believes
that tax and other incentives are necessary to
encourage young lawyers to practise in rural and
remote areas. The Law Council also believes
that increased funding is needed for dedicated
Indigenous Legal Services.

The Law Council asks
Will you support immediately providing a
minimum one-off payment of $40M to reestablish
a civil legal aid scheme and continuing
funding for such a scheme?
Will you support immediately increasing funding
for legal aid overall by a minimum one-off
payment of $100M (in addition to the $40M civil
legal aid scheme) and continuing funding at this
increased level?
Will you support increasing funding for dedicated
Indigenous Legal Services?
Will you support providing tax and other
incentives to young lawyers to practise in rural
and remote areas?

Civil Unions
The Law Council is concerned that current
Australian law defining marriage as the union of a
man and a woman is inconsistent with Australia’s
international obligations under the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and with
the recognition of same sex marriages or civil
unions in many overseas jurisdictions.
The Law Council believes that marriage is a civil
right which should be made available to all people
regardless of sex. The Law Council also believes
that discrimination against same sex couples
cannot be adequately addressed without changing
the law in relation to marriage.

The Law Council asks
Will you support legislative recognition of same
sex marriages or civil unions?

Australian Judicial
Commission
There is currently no federal mechanism to deal
with complaints of negligence, physical or mental
fitness, incompetence or misbehaviour against
Federal judges or magistrates.
The Law Council proposes the establishment of
an Australian Judicial Commission to manage
complaints made against federal judges and
magistrates and provide them with education and
training in collaboration with such bodies as the
National Judicial College of Australia.

The Law Council asks
Will you support legislation for the establishment
of an Australian Judicial Commission and provide
resources for such a body to manage complaints
against and help provide training for Federal
judges and magistrates?

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