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18th Mar 2020
Wednesday 18 March 2020
Access to justice
Access to justice is essential for our community to function fairly and effectively. It can help ensure rights to compensation are realised, prevent family violence and protect the vulnerable from the powerful.
We promote equal access to justice for all individuals regardless of wealth, position, age, race, religious belief, sex, sexual identity or ability.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has been effective in fighting for access to justice in many areas, making submissions to parliamentary inquiries and engaging in advocacy on diverse issues including funding for community legal centres, guardianship and counter-terrorism laws.
We support the Productivity Commission’s recommendation in its Access to Justice report that funding for community legal centres (CLCs) and legal aid be substantially increased, and that CLCs should be funded to engage in “strategic advocacy and law reform activities that seek to identify and remedy systemic issues and so reduce demand for frontline services”. As the Productivity Commission notes, facilitating access to justice by funding these services in fact saves money by resolving legal problems early and preventing them from escalating. Encouraging CLCs to engage in advocacy is an investment in legal efficiency, as CLCs have unique insight into how the legal system affects the most vulnerable.
We believe that:
- CLCs should be able to fearlessly engage in advocacy in the interests of their clients;
- legal advice and representation, and information about where it can be found, should be available to all;
- the unique needs of rural and remote communities should be recognised and met, including by ensuring legal services are adequately funded and increasing technological capabilities of legal processes;
- people with capacity or ability challenges must be supported in accessing justice; and
- lawyers should be able to advertise to ensure people are aware of their rights and how they can access them.
Governments can support access to justice by:
- adequately fund essential legal and court services;
- ensuring legal reform does not erode existing rights to the acceptance of claims, to certain entitlements, or introduction of higher thresholds;
- refraining from legal reform that limits access to legal representation; and
- following model litigant guidelines.
Factors such as language, culture, location, income, level of education and disability, can have a significant impact on a person's genuine access to justice. These factors must be considered when considering law reform that impacts on access to justice.
The law must be available to all of us to ensure we can protect our rights.