An Article from the Age by Jane Lee on 12 December 2012 had this to say about the Victorian Legal Aid costs slashing to take effect from 7 January 2013:
WARNING ON LEGAL AID SLANGING MATCHES
FAMILY law disputes could turn into slanging matches between parents forced to cross-examine each other, putting their children’s best interests at risk a former judge warns.
Hundreds of families could be left without legal representation under the most wide-ranging changes to Victoria Legal Aid’s eligibility guidelines in its history, announced on Tuesday.
VLA managing director Bevan Warner said parents – who from January 7 will receive funding only when preparing for a family law trial, and legal representation at trials when they are to face a lawyer – would be most affected by the changes.
Former chief magistrate and family court justice Sally Brown said that the changes risked compromising children’s best interests, for example in cases where they were being relocated, which were particularly difficult if family violence was involved.
”If one parent is going to have to cross examine the other parent it’s likely [that] without judicial intervention it turns into a slanging match, a reprisal of the many unhappy events in their lives together, many of which will not be relevant to the question of the future wellbeing of their children … ” she said.
”The court will be placed in a position that they do not have the best available evidence on which to make decisions about the future living arrangements of children and the consequences of that could be that the decision made is less than optimal.”
Mr Warner said the changes ”reflect the fact that we cannot meet the need for legal help without additional investment from [federal and state] government.”
”This ultimately is a public policy choice between what sort of clients, in what circumstances, to help and for how long and how much,” he said.
The organisation announced changes to 16 of its guidelines on Tuesday following unprecedented demand for legal aid services in the wake of a state government crackdown on family violence.
Mr Warner has said VLA could face a budget deficit of more than $3.1 million next financial year.
The changes will affect all of its program areas. VLA’s lawyers, who handle only about 25 per cent of its caseload compared with external private lawyers, will get greater responsibilities under the changes.