There are eight legal aid commissions in Australia, one in each state and territory. The purpose of legal aid commissions is to provide vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians with access to justice.
Our society invests in a necessarily complex system of justice, a system of institutions - the courts, tribunals and other related agencies - to protect rights, ensure civil liberties and enforce civic responsibilities. If access to these institutions was reserved only for wealthy citizens, the confidence of the broader community in our system of justice would be undermined. Without a strong system of justice the rule of law would be compromised and without the rule of law we would not have the rights and liberties we all enjoy.
Our democratic society therefore depends on the premise that all Australians are equal before the law, a premise which needs to be understood in relation to the question of access. Legal aid commissions play a defining role in achieving equality before the law by striving to ensure that all citizens, including those who can't afford to pay, have access to the legal services they need to obtain justice.
Commissions provide access to justice by providing the following types of legal assistance:
- financial assistance to enable people who cannot afford a lawyer to be legally represented in court proceedings and other cases;
- duty lawyer services for people appearing at court on the day without a lawyer;
- information and advice about legal rights, responsibilities and remedies, and
- education programs to inform the community about the law and legal remedies.
National Legal Aid
The directors of the eight legal aid commissions combine at a national level to form National Legal Aid (NLA).
NLA acts as a central contact point and advocate for issues that are of interest to all of the commissions. It also:
- sponsors research into the law and legal need in the community;
- provides a framework for information exchange and learning opportunities between legal aid commissions; and
- promotes the development of best practice in legal aid commission business nationally.
The NLA website includes financial and other legal aid performance data, as well as the NLA strategic plan, submissions to government inquiries and a range of legal aid best practice standards.