The Law Council of Australia is attempting to broaden legal services to those living in rural, regional and remote communities with the launch of a new three-year initiative.
The LCA’s Rural, Regional and Remote (RRR) strategic plan has been launched this week, covering the 2021-23 period.
The initiative will address five key areas for action, include building awareness, recruitment, retention and succession of lawyers, technology, and the promotion of RRR legal practice in education and advocacy.
The launch of the initiative comes after research by the legal body found that while close to 30 per cent of Australians live in RRR areas, only 10.5 per cent of the country’s solicitors practise outside an urban centre.
This, LCA president Dr Jacoba Brasch QC said, significantly limits the options for those needing legal services.
“RRR communities are diverse and dynamic, and the kinds of legal needs experienced within vary substantially, from water rights allocation, to environment and planning restrictions, to farm succession planning, and laws which have special relevance to First Nations people,” Dr Brasch said while speaking at the Cooma Court House.
“Access to justice is undermined when there is a critical shortage of suitable legal representation in particular regions. Many RRR communities are particularly vulnerable to cycles of natural disaster, such as fires, drought. Emergencies generate particular areas of legal need for people who are ineligible for publicly funded legal assistance and emergencies also exacerbate existing legal problems and directly trigger others, including in relation to credit, debt or insurance.
“But there is a clear disparity between remote and urban justice, which means people in difficulties living in RRR communities are missing out.”
Dr Brasch noted there’s little doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated access to justice for RRR communities. Changes and delays to court hearings combined with state and territory border closures are just some of the issues people in RRR communities had to face in looking to obtain legal services or attend proceedings.
“There is no doubt that the profession’s increased experience using technology because of COVID-19 has created opportunities for the delivery of legal services in RRR areas,” Dr Brasch said.
“But we must remember to also address issues faced by people experiencing disadvantage who may, for a variety of reasons, experience difficulties in adapting to on-line legal service delivery.
“For too long, there has been too little regional engagement in law and policy development, which has meant that laws and policies have become ‘urban centric’ and drafted with little consideration to their application in RRR communities. That is what the National Strategic Plan is addressing."
Lawyers Weekly’s Boutique Law Summit returns to Sydney this month, designed for individuals who are looking to maximise their competitive edge in a post-pandemic marketplace.
The event will be held on Friday, 26 March at the Four Seasons Hotel.
To learn more about the event, click here.