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LCA president: ‘It’s important that justice remains human-centered’

Whilst a number of issues in the profession have been exacerbated by COVID-19, what remains important moving forward is finding a balance between pre and post-pandemic ways of working.

user iconLauren Croft 04 February 2022 Big Law
Tass Liveris
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Having been a director of the Law Council of Australia since October 2014, Tass Liveris’ appointment to Law Council president in January was a long-awaited move.

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, the new president spoke about the effects of the pandemic on the legal profession, the impact of the upcoming election and his priorities for 2022.

The issues Mr Liveris plans to focus on in 2022 “all stem around the fact that there is a federal election due no later than May”, which will have varying implications for the legal profession.


In the first half of 2022, the LCA will formulate its “call to party document, to ensure that whoever forms government can be held to pledges on the issues that we think are in the best interest of Australia’s future”, said Mr Liveris. He added that there were a number of key issues in established policy areas that still needed work.

“They’re things like a call for increased funding for legal aid commissions across criminal civil and family, so that the Commonwealth’s share of that funding is restored to 50 per cent. We think that that translates to more than $300 million in additional funding each year and that there are clear economical and social benefits in making that investment,” he said.

“Another is for the federal government to work with all of the states and territory governments to conduct a review into the resourcing needs of the judicial system. The Law Council has said for a long time that the overarching federal courts and tribunals have not been resourced adequately – and that’s affected their capacity to resolve matters quickly.”

This follows the release of the Law Council’s pre-budget submission, which calls for a full review of the resourcing needs of the judicial system.

“We want the Australian government to commit to this review and to providing resources if areas that require additional support are identified. In addition, we would like to see increased allocations in the 2022-23 budget for our courts, commissions and tribunals to enable them to fill vacancies, appoint additional judges and reduce backlogs,” Mr Liveris said in a statement. 

“Legal problems commonly occur in society, however an unacceptable proportion of our population are disadvantaged and vulnerable in their interactions with our legal system.

“Increasing baseline ongoing funding for legal aid commissions, community legal centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services by at least $400 million is critical to addressing current service gaps.”

Additionally, 26 May this year will be the fifth anniversary of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – which Ms Liveris told Lawyers Weekly would be an opportune time for the government to “implement the recommendations of the referendum council and put in place a timetable for a referendum” and get more Indigenous voices into Parliament as a result.

“We think that is critically important because culturally safe and evidence-based solutions must be the foundation for addressing aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders disadvantage in the legal system.

“More broadly, I also think that there is an ongoing need to look inward and focus on the mental health and wellbeing of the profession. Whilst that was always an issue, and whilst the shift in workplace practices during the pandemic has brought some benefit on one view to the way in which people can work, it also risks burnout, isolation and more vulnerability,” he said.

“I think the pandemic-induced fears and uncertainties and anxieties, whilst that has applied to everyone around the world in all industries, I do think it’s exacerbated the issue in how the profession has traditionally dealt with their mental health and wellbeing.”

Whilst a number of key issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic, Mr Liveris maintains that these issues “have always been there”. One of these is the uptake of new technology, particularly as the pandemic “forced us all to change rapidly overnight”, he added.

“We need to find a balance between what areas of virtual and remote court hearings and online practices should and can stay to increase efficiency and what needs to be done in person.

“There’s obviously advantages for people who live in regional, rural and remote areas; technology can provide greater access to justice for them. But we also need to be very careful that we don’t exclude people who might not have reliable internet connections, who don’t have access to technology, or who simply lack the skills and capabilities to use the technology and online services,” Mr Liveris said.

“There are some really big issues going on at the moment, and I think part of that too is the rise of AI and what can be done by artificial means and what needs to be done by people. It’s important that justice remains human-centered, at its core.”

Whilst “there are some real benefits to online hearings”, human interaction will remain key moving forward, Mr Liveris added. Moreover, as legal tech has become an accelerated industry over the last two years, he explained the importance of finding a balance post-pandemic.  

“We need to harness and embrace the opportunities and benefits that technology can provide, but we also need to ensure that if consumers are relying on AI or not traditional means of legal advice, that we can still give that quality assurance,” he said.

“The pandemic forced us to ask ourselves, how effective are these ways of working? Are there limitations? What paths should we keep and which should we get rid of?

“I think what will happen is that there is a lot that will stay, but there’s also a lot that will go – and we’ll find a landing point somewhere in the middle. What we do need to do as we move to a much more digital way of doing things, for the courts and the profession, it all needs to be resourced properly and there needs to be proper training. Rural and regional courts need to be set up properly so they have access to the technology. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

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