Rural offenders in need of aid
JUSTICE experts are pushing for more funding to stop vulnerable south-west Queensland residents falling through the legal cracks.
In St George alone, a total of 521 adult defendants and 14 children faced 1058 charges in 2016-17.
TASC senior lawyer Katrina Potter said while there was significant support for Toowoomba residents, people living in southwest were severely hampered by a lack of free or low-cost legal services.
She said regional and rural residents often self-represented and were unaware of all their legal rights and obligations, which could cause them harm down the track.
"For example, a farmer might consent to a domestic violence order and not have any idea this will impact their ability to keep weapons,” Ms Potter.
"We are always saying we need more funding - it is no secret.
"Rural, regional and remote people, particularly the vulnerable residents, have to deal with distance, a lack of technology and if they don't have a lawyer they can see face-to-face they just won't get their needs met.”
The Government needed to invest more money in community and low-cost legal services, said Bill Potts, whose firm represents clients in the region.
"We build bridges, we build roads, we build tunnels but why don't we spend that kind of money on the justice system?” the deputy president of the Queensland Law Society said.
"We have people being denied justice - they are being convicted or they can't appeal properly because they are being denied access to a system that favours those who have the resources for representation.”
The Queensland Government said it had invested millions in rolling out specialist courts and resourcing support services.
This included providing $85.1 million for Legal Aid and passing on Federal Government funding to community legal centres, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Yvette D'Ath said.
The 2016-2017 period also saw the reinstatement of the Murri Courts, which were established in 14 locations.
A ceremony was held across these centres, which included St George, to recognise the contribution of these Courts and the work of the Elders and Respected Persons who support them.