The Government has decided to change the way it funds Community Law Centres. There are 26 Community Law Centres, and they provide legal services to those who can’t afford a lawyer.
The Justice Ministry wants to establish a “two tier” system, by reducing the number of Community Law Centres to 10, and setting up an 0800 number and website.
One of the centres threatened with closure is the one closest to me, the Waitakere Community Law Centre. Poverty is a real problem in parts of West Auckland, and the closure of the centre would be a blow to the community.
The funding changes will probably save money, but may result in some people losing access to legal services.
Many people who use the Community Law Centres don’t have access to a phone or the internet. Many have language difficulties, disabilities, or mental health issues. An almost inevitable result of these changes will be a reduction in the quality of service being provided.
The changes are being driven by the desire to cut costs, but they also tell us a lot about the Government’s priorities. They are happy to pay tens of millions of dollars to Australian investment bankers to help sell our public assets, and to give billions of dollars of tax cuts to the wealthy to help them pay for the shares they will buy in those assets, but can they spare even a few million dollars to ensure those already at the bottom of the heap have access to basic legal representation?
If the Government cared about protecting the legal rights of the poor and disadvantaged, then the money would be found to maintain the chain of Community Law Centres.