This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Legal Services Commission of South Australia’s Duty Lawyer service and the 40th anniversary of the Family Law Act, which overhauled Australian divorce laws and paved the way for increased self-representation.
As the number of unrepresented people seeking free legal assistance in family law matters grows, the Legal Services Commission of South Australia’s Duty Lawyer service has experienced a 10 per cent year-on-year increase on the use of its services.
Legal Services Commission family law division manager Graham Russell said: “There are increasing numbers of unrepresented people in family law cases. It’s estimated that up to 40 per cent of people are not represented by a lawyer in these matters.”
He continued: “Unrepresented people will often be unaware of how the court operates. People often arrive at the court and don’t know what to do.”
Mr Russell said the Duty Lawyers service provides free advice about the legal processes, how they should speak to the judge and the information they should provide. Duty Lawyers also sometimes provide representation in court.
“[Judges] will often ask the Duty Lawyer to provide specific assistance to unrepresented people,” Mr Russell said.
“This helps to minimise delays in the court process and to stop people falling through the legal gaps.”
Duty Lawyer assistance is not means tested and anyone with a family law matter can approach this service for one-off assistance, Mr Russell explained. The Commission’s Duty Lawyers are based at Adelaide’s Commonwealth Law Courts Building, in Angas Street, where most SA family law cases are heard.
“We strive to provide prompt access to justice for those in need, and usually have two Duty Lawyers at the courts on each sitting day,” Mr Russell said.