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Access to justice review

Access to justice review

The LIV has long advocated for reforms to the Victorian justice system to ensure that access to legal representation is available to all who need or desire to engage legal professional services. While legal assistance service providers are providing high-quality services to the most disadvantaged Australians, there is a large body of evidence supporting the concern that a significant proportion of low and middle income earning Victorians do not have the capacity, be that economic or otherwise, to effectively engage with the justice system.

The LIV contends that this is largely the result of significant underfunding of the legal assistance sector. There are significant flow-on benefits from investment in the justice system. Reports have shown that “returns can be attributed to cost savings from a range of factors, including reduced private and public health costs and lower rates of absenteeism” as well as “the potential to reduce the escalation of legal issues and associated costs.”

The LIV strongly supports the Productivity Commission’s call for an immediate $200 million per year in funding for civil justice services across Australia as a first step to increased funding, of which $60 million should be allocated to Victoria. The LIV further calls for more ongoing funding in Victoria above this amount. This will go some way to ensuring that both civil and criminal justice systems are sustainably funded. It is also critical that both legal aid and CLC funding is increased and sustained to meet increasing demand for legal assistance services.

However, the LIV recognises that unmet legal need will not simply go away with increased funding. The LIV’s recommendations take into consideration:

  • the growing role of technology in the delivery of professional services, such as online dispute resolution and legal analytics or artificial intelligence;
  • innovative funding models, including support for legal start-ups, Legal Expense Insurance, Legal Expenses Contribution Schemes, alternative billing practices, unbundled legal services and Social Investment Bonds;
  • the importance of an efficient and fair regulatory system to ensure an appropriate balance between consumer protection and transaction costs, and specifically the need for further reform to the Legal Profession Uniform Law;
  • the importance of multiple entry points into accessing legal services and the coordination of referral pathways once a referral point is accessed;
  • the critical role of lawyers in providing access to justice by guiding people through key decision points in the legal system, particularly in the early stages to identify legal compared to non-legal issues and to triage accordingly;
  • the role of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), integration of ADR with online technologies, and the use of ADR in specific context, such as cases involving family violence, and matters involving members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community or people with disabilities;
  • the critical role of VCAT in providing a low cost accessible jurisdiction, highlighting a range of reforms to rules, procedures, information and fees to improve VCAT’s efficiency, effectiveness and ultimately its accessibility;
  • the role of pro bono legal services as an important and voluntary addition to, rather than substitute for, the provision of adequate funding for free and accessible legal services;
  • and the importance of adequately funding pro bono referral services such as the LIVLAS program;
  • that in addition to sustainable funding for mainstream services, targeted funding is needed for specific groups including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the legacy caseload of asylum seekers and people with disabilities;
  • the absence of duplication in the provision of legal assistance services and information, taking into the account the high levels of demand, the range of ‘audiences’ for services and information, and the need to provide alternative service options when conflicts of interest arise;
  • the distribution and mode of delivery of legal assistance services, recognising the key role of the private profession in delivering approximately 70 per cent of the legally aided services;
  • the apparent underfunding of privately provided legal aid service; and the important role the legal profession should play in the governance of service delivery arrangements; and
  • the impact and needs of the large number of self-represented litigants (SRLs) in the justice system, the role of SRL court-based services, and the pressing need for further data of the numbers of SRLs and the reasons why they self-represent to ensure any policy response is evidence-based.

These key themes have shaped the LIV’s response to the Department’s Access to Justice Review. The LIV would welcome the opportunity to engage in further consultation on any of these issues, or any other issues, covered in this submission.

Download Submission

Keren Murray, Principal Lawyer, Legal Policy

T: 03 9607 9365

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