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From the president: A source worth saving

Every Issue

Cite as: (2007) 81(7) LIJ, p. 4


AustLII needs the support of Australian lawyers and, separately, the truth of tort law “reform” is being revealed.

Click on http://www.austlii.edu.au and you’ll find what is fondly referred to as the world’s largest free online library.

Around the world, the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII) is part of a network of legal information institutes which meet annually to affirm their mission of providing free, full and anonymous public access to legal information on the Internet.

Their philosophy is that public legal information is digital common property and should be accessible to all on a non-profit basis, free of charge.

In a typical month, the AustLII website receives an average of 637,000 hits per day – three times more than commercial providers of legal research.

It is an important resource for all lawyers, but especially for Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) members who are inhouse counsel, solicitors who do not have ready access to large research libraries and research students.

Unfortunately, a funding crisis arose this year when the federally-funded Australian Research Council ceased the research infrastructure grants that AustLII has depended on over the past seven years.

Strictly speaking, according to AustLII, the grants were meant to be one-off developments and not an ongoing source of general operating funding. However, losing around $650,000 has resulted in an immediate threat to some of its services.

In terms of ongoing funding, AustLII needs about $1.2 million to keep going.

The call went out to save it, and the Victorian Legal Practitioners’ Liability Committee chipped in $50,000, around 19 law firms donated amounts of between $5000 and $10,000 and legal firm Baker & McKenzie committed $35,000 over three years.

Individual lawyers and barristers donated amounts ranging from $500 to $1000 and the Victorian Bar Council gave $7500.

The LIV believes that ordinary people should not lose access to public legal information.

And though the LIV believes it would struggle to impose a $20 per member levy to support the rescue mission, the subject of contributions from Australian law societies is on the agenda for further discussion at the Law Council of Australia (LCA).

The LCA has already indicated to AustLII that its executive is interested in helping with future funding, once it has had time to consult its members.

Whether the law societies protest the cuts to federal government or form an ongoing strategy to include a lump sum annually from the national membership through the LCA or individually, the discussion that began earlier this year will need to be debated at both local membership level and nationally.

Even a $2 per head levy from Australia’s 56,000 lawyers could make an enormous difference to the viability of the site, but nevertheless must be agreed on by the group.

While the pros and cons of levies and AustLII are being debated, members who wish to make a voluntary donation should go to http://www.austlii.edu.au/austlii/sponsors/contribute.pdf

It’s not news when the LIV or LCA says that compensation laws are unbalanced and unfair.

However, when one of the architects of tort law reforms in NSW says the system is unfair, that is news.

And that is exactly what Justice David Ipp delivered in a speech to the insurance industry in May.

He labelled the compensation laws inconsistent, unbalanced and unfair for injured people.

This reiterates what law societies have said since the harsh changes to compensation laws were introduced.

In Victoria, 2003 heralded significant amendments to the Wrongs Act 1958, affecting Victorians’ rights to make claims for personal injuries.

In short, damages for pain and suffering are now only recoverable where a plaintiff has suffered a “significant injury” as assessed by an approved medical practitioner or medical panel under the Act.

The minimum level for recovery of damages is a permanent impairment of more than 5 per cent for non-psychiatric injury and more than 10 per cent for a psychiatric injury.

As we have said before, the new laws are out of line with community standards of fairness and decency.

Generally, a person who has suffered a personal injury has three years from the date of the discovery of the injury, or when it should have been discovered, to make a claim. Thresholds do not apply to injuries occurring before 21 May 2003, or proceedings in existence before 1 October 2003.

The LIV advises anyone suffering a personal injury to seek legal advice as soon as possible to determine any rights to compensation.

The LIV has also appealed to injured people to contact us with their stories, even if the deadline has passed or they have been told that they would not be eligible, so their details can be collated for a campaign to review the current tort law changes.

If you know of or are involved in any such cases, please email Emily Schneider at eschneider@liv.asn.au with your details.

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