Government gets tough on lobbyists using legal aid

The State Government has announced tighter rules for accessing legal aid, after revealing independent funding for the organisation is declining.

Legal Aid is the go-to service for people who cannot afford their own lawyer and who require representation in court.

Many of the solicitors who work there do it for free.

The State Government says these are tight financial times and that taxpayer's money should only be appropriately spent.

The Attorney General Greg Smith says Legal Aid is partly funded by a trust called the Public Purpose Fund, sourced from interest earned on solicitors' trust accounts.

He says that fund has been diminishing as a result of declining interest rates.

Mr Smith says the changes will ensure funds are only spent on society's most vulnerable.

The Attorney General says the changes are partly aimed at stopping Legal Aid from representing lobby groups.

"We understand there's lobbying occurring around the place against disadvantaged." "There's lobbying occurring, advice is being given to radical groups who want to basically stop coal mine exploration, coal seam gas exploration, that's money that shouldn't be going or the employees of these organisations are receiving should be going to the homeless - they're the people we want to help." "We hope to be able to fund some of the groups that haven't been funded.

There are groups out there, in the community who give legal assistance to people who can't get government funding and we think there's more of a call for them to get some funding." The State Government says Legal Aid is for the disadvantaged, not environment groups who want to fight mining exploration licences in court.  A former north coast mayor says residents will take to the streets if they can't get legal representation to fight mining interests.

Activist says picket lines will grow  Former Gloucestor mayor Julie Lyford says residents will be forced to defend their rights through blockades if they can't afford legal help.

"The picket lines are getting bigger and the pickets are full of people who are in their seventies who have never stood up to man a blockade before and they band together, some here have pooled their minimal resources, in some cases their superannuation to find a lawyer but it's left them completely out of pocket," she said.

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