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Robes rally for fairer courts

18 May 2016
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Barristers and solicitors have taken the unprecedented step of rallying to demand an increase in legal aid funding. Will it come to wigs on the picket lines?

It was at the polite end of the protest spectrum. As the hundreds of people rallying outside Melbourne’s County Court threatened to block pedestrian access along Lonsdale Street, solicitor Mark Woods reminded them that the Queen’s footpath must remain free to passing traffic.
But in the legal world, politeness often combines with passion, and this demonstration was no exception. Having called on us all to respect the right of way, Woods went onto describe what was happening inside the court complex that was our backdrop. More than 80 per cent of those appearing in court today, he said, would suffer from a mental illness, be a victim of domestic violence, have a problem with substance abuse, or be homeless or be unemployed. “More than 60 per cent of them will have been to court before,” said Woods, who chairs the Law Council of Australia’s Access to Justice committee. “Yet only a quarter would qualify for legal aid…”

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2016
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