Lawyers’ fight for pay rise after decade-long freeze
The president of the Wollongong Law Society fears a lack of resources and stagnant pay rates for private practitioners undertaking legal aid work will leave those who rely on the service with limited access to justice. Melinda Griffiths, who is also a principal lawyer at Slater and Gordon in Wollongong, said the rate of pay for duty solicitors had remained unchanged for more than a decade.
The frozen remuneration comes amid a decline in the number of solicitors doing local court criminal work, in particular in courts outside the Sydney metropolitan area, Ms Griffiths said.
The Wollongong lawyer has joined a Law Society of NSW push for more funding and resources to be allocated to private practitioners. The society is concerned NSW government inaction would leave many lawyers with no alternative but to cease providing the service and put the thousands of disadvantaged people who depend on legal aid in limbo.
“The legal aid system relies not only on solicitors at Legal Aid and Community Legal Centre solicitors but also the extensive work private solicitors do,” Ms Griffiths said.
“If duty solicitors were no longer able to undertake legal aid work, many vulnerable people would be left with limited access to advice or services to help them resolve family violence, criminal and debt matters.”
Ms Griffiths also stressed the cost of the justice system to the community could “increase significantly” as a result.
“A reduction in court sitting times means alleged victims and accused are waiting longer for access to justice,” she said.
According to the society, the pay rate for private practitioners undertaking legal aid work has remained at $150 an hour since 2007. It has not kept pace with inflation and is the only sector that has had its remuneration frozen by the government since 2007, the society claimed.
Ms Griffiths has called on the government, which posted a $5.7 billion surplus last financial year, to investigate ways to boost private practitioners’ pay rates. Increasing rates of pay in line with inflation would see their hourly rate increase $40 to $190, the society said.
In a statement to the Mercury, NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman said the government was “grateful for the valuable work of private legal practitioners engaged in legally aided matters”.
“I appreciate that remuneration for this work has remained static for some years,” Mr Speakman said.
“These fees are set by the board of Legal Aid NSW (LANSW) which operates independently of government. LANSW is currently undertaking a review of fees and consulting closely with the Law Society of NSW and the profession more broadly.”