find the latest legal job
Senior Associate - Litigation & Dispute Resolution
Category: Litigation and Dispute Resolution | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Come work for a firm ranked in Lawyers Weekly Top 25 Attraction Firms
View details
Associate - Workplace Relations & Safety
Category: Industrial Relations and Employment Law | Location: Brisbane CBD & Inner Suburbs Brisbane QLD
· Employer of choice · Strong team culture
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Banking and Finance Law | Location: All Perth WA
· Freelance opportunities through Vario from Pinsent Masons
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Adelaide SA
· • Qualified lawyer with a strong academic background
View details
Freelance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· • Qualified lawyer with a strong academic background
View details
Legal support fails justice: LCA report

Legal support fails justice: LCA report

DISADVANTAGED Australians do not have adequate access to legal representation and this is having a detrimental effect on the legal system and the delivery of justice, according to a new report…

DISADVANTAGED Australians do not have adequate access to legal representation and this is having a detrimental effect on the legal system and the delivery of justice, according to a new report by the Law Council of Australia.

Erosion of Legal Representation in the Australian Justice System is said to confirm what the Council had long suspected: that a deficiency in public funding had led to a failure to maintain pace with the actual costs of legal representation, jeopardising the delivery of justice in Australia.

Now the Council is reiterating concerns expressed as early as 1994 — that insufficient levels of funding would prevent an increasing number of Australians from gaining legal support. The Council had also predicted that “keeping pace” with the cost of legal representation would offer a challenge to the delivery of justice.

An increasing number of self-represented litigants were attending the courts, the report revealed. This could be attributed, at least in part, to a lack of available publicly funded representation.

It was also said that there had been inequity in access to representation, that legal aid fees were below the real cost of “generally providing the necessary legal service” and that “increases are needed to at least meet costs”.

There was a “significant” withdrawal of experienced lawyers from publicly funded legal work and “some diminution” in the quality of publicly funded legal representation, the report claimed.

The integrity of the justice system was challenged when legal representation was not available to a litigant, said Law Council president Bob Gotterson. “At a time when the law has become more complex and there is a real growth in legal need, many Australians are being denied the right to legal representation to receive a just outcome,” he said.

The courts were also disadvantaged by the increased number of self-represented litigants, said the report. Some disadvantaged clients feel pressured to plead guilty or abandon their cases because of a lack of legal representation, Gotterson said. And the courts were “facing rising costs” because of an increase in the number of self-represented litigants, prolonged cases and delays in court proceedings.

Gotterson said lawyers wanted to see justice done, as do judicial officers, “but the need to remain impartial in the delivery of justice becomes very difficult when there is no legal representation”.

Paula O’Brien, executive director of the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH), a legal referral service, spoke to Lawyers Weekly about the Law Council’s concerns. Adding spice to the Council’s mix of issues, she said that it was very difficult for courts to dispense justice when someone represents themselves because “that person cannot properly put their interests to the court”.

“There are limits on how intervening a judge can be to assist that person,” she said.

O’Brien acknowledged the increasingly large amount of pro bono work that private practitioners were doing, noting that for asylum seekers, some commercial firms had been sending their lawyers to training “so that they can provide pro bono migration legal assistance to these people”.

The Law Council makes a series of recommendations in the report. These include calling on the Australian Law Reform Commission to conduct a study of the effect self-represented litigants have on the Australian justice system.

Gotterson suggested the establishment of a national task force, which would develop national guidelines to provide public funding to disadvantaged litigants in the justice system.

O’Brien also stressed the need for increased public assistance. She said the government should look at its guidelines and consider revising them to ensure money in the pool is properly distributed. “The government should not sidestep its obligations by pointing at the pro bono work that private law firms are doing,” O’Brien said.

The Law Council’s report was undertaken in association with the Australian Institution of Judicial Administration, National Legal Aid and the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Services.

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Legal support fails justice: LCA report
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
microphone
Oct 20 2017
Podcast: One of law’s most infamous alumni – in conversation with Julian Morrow
In this episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, Melissa Coade is joined by The Chaser’s Julian Morrow....
protest
Oct 20 2017
High Court overturns ‘excessive’ anti-protest legislation
Bob Brown’s recent victory in the High Court over the Tasmanian government was a win for fundament...
Blocked
Oct 20 2017
Changes to Australian citizenship laws blocked
Attempts to beef up the requirements to obtain Australian citizenship were thwarted this week, after...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...