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Steps towards better justice

Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(7) LIJ, p. 6

The LIV welcomes the civil justice review as a starting point for improving the justice system.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission’s Civil Justice Reviewreport has the potential to be the basis for a much better justice system in Victoria.

The report, the result of 18 months consultation and research, was released at the end of May. It runs to more than 750 pages, with 177 recommendations which aim to increase access to justice for Victorians and speed the litigation process. [For more on the report, see “Cultivating a new civil court structure” on page 20 of this edition of the LIJ.]

It has been welcomed by Deputy Premier and Attorney-General Rob Hulls, who has focused on civil justice reform as one of his priority areas.

The government intends to carefully consider all the recommendations and has indicated its willingness to work with the legal profession, the courts and other stakeholders to improve the state’s civil justice system.

And, indeed, the report is just the beginning.

Having commissioned such a major review, the government must now ensure that its introduction is fully resourced.

While, ultimately, the report’s implementation should lead to a much faster and more streamlined system, it does not necessarily follow that this can be done cheaply.

It will require a fully modernised system, including the provision of up-to-date court premises with state-of-the-art computer facilities.

Victoria is lagging behind the other states in the provision of modern buildings, especially the Supreme Court.

As stated by president Tony Burke last month [“Budgeting for our superior court”, June 2008 LIJ, page 4], while the Victorian Budget did have some admirable elements, provision for upgrading the Supreme Court was missing.

It is imperative that a new Supreme Court facility be constructed as part of the government’s implementation of the Civil Justice Review.

At the same time, the government must consider whether further courts, both in the regions and Melbourne, should be constructed.

The LIV is supportive of the report, although it does have concerns about the style and implementation of some of the recommendations, particularly in relation to pre-action requirements and the need for parties’ representatives to certify the merit of a case.

Other recommendations include:

  • new statutory standards to govern the conduct of key participants in civil proceedings;
  • additional provisions for mandatory referral to alternative dispute resolution (ADR);
  • increased judicial powers to impose limits on pre-trial processes and hearings;
  • new procedures for pre-trial oral examination of persons with relevant information;
  • a statutory provision to enable confidential (non-privileged) information to be obtained before trial;
  • narrowing the range of documents required to be produced on discovery to those that are directly relevant; and
  • additional express judicial power to limit or restrict discovery.

The report also proposes more proactive judicial management of litigation through a wide range of reforms to assist judges, including a docket system, use of telephone directions hearings and technology, case conferencing and listing.

The LIV urges all jurisdictions to approach these proposals with an open mind and support active intervention by the judges to reduce time delays.

The profession itself must also meet the challenge that has been placed before it in the proposed changes.

As a whole, it must assist the courts in the implementation of all adopted proposals.

However, the LIV is adamant that litigation lawyers should not bear the brunt of the reforms. There must be shared responsibility for ensuring a better justice system.

Under the review there will be some changes that will require a strong commitment from the profession, but by embracing the proposals the profession will be able to be an integral part of a much better justice system within Victoria.

The report has recommended the establishment of a Civil Justice Council which, according to the Commissioner in charge of the report, Dr Peter Cashman, will enable bodies such as the LIV and the Victorian Bar to have an enhanced role in the ongoing processes of civil justice review and reform.

The LIV looks forward to working with the government and the courts to bring about the changes required to make the civil justice system in Victoria world’s best practice.

For the full report, see http://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au.

Michael Brett Young ceo@liv.asn.au

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