Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls has released the second instalment of his wide-reaching program of law reform for the state, Justice Statement 2.
The Attorney-General’s Justice Statement 2 repackages Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) into a new guise, Appropriate Dispute Resolution. At the launch at the Collingwood Neighbourhood Justice Centre (a key initiative of the previous justice statement), Hulls said he would be encouraging commercial firms to sign a pledge of commitment to non-adversarial justice and ADR techniques.
Civil and criminal justice reforms were the AG’s main focus, building on the principles of the first statement released in 2004. But the weight given to therapeutic justice techniques will impact on both community and commercial lawyers.
The AG’s suggestion that the pledge be co-ordinated in partnership with the Law Institute of Victoria IV came as something of a surprise to launch attendees, including the LIV CEO, Michael Brett Young. However, Brett Young has expressed tentative support for the idea, and said the LIV was keen to hear more detail about many of the projects.
“At this stage we don’t have full details of it, but it’s probably an aspirational approach to it, encouraging firms to make a commitment that they will then provide to their clients,” he said.
“We are interested in hearing what (Hulls) has in mind and how this will benefit consumers of legal services as well as law practices.”
Overseas experience suggests that firms may have some reservations about signing the ADR pledge. LIV President Tony Burke, currently in America for the International Bar Association Conference, has already begun contacting American layers, particularly those in California, to find out more about their experience of ADR.
Hugh de Kretser, Executive Officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres (CLCs), credited the ADR policy as sound in theory, but cautioned about its implementation with regards to the smaller players in legal disputes, particularly disadvantaged and self-represented litigants.
“Adding an appropriate dispute resolution hurdle for clients who can’t speak English or who have got an intellectual disability or limited education, when they’re up against sophisticated negotiators or well resourced corporations, might further entrench disadvantage in the court system,” he said.
De Kretser said the broad-brush approach of the Justice Statement was promising, particularly in the areas of mental health and reoffending rates. The ongoing issue of funding for CLCs and Victoria Legal Aid, said De Kretser after reading the statement, remains an area of concern.
“Legal Aid hasn’t got the funding ... CLCs don’t have the funding [required] to take many of these cases on to representation stage, and this justice statement doesn’t provide the answers there. What it says is we’re going to advocate for the federal Government to provide the answers,” he said.
Brett Young also pushed for the Government to lift its funding commitments,
“We are also keen for the Victorian Government to lift legal aid funding, particularly for criminal law, to ensure that those practitioners who are doing this difficult work receive a fairer rate,” he said.
Both the LIV and the Federation of CLCs hope to contribute to the fleshing-out of the second justice statement at upcoming meetings of the Attorney-General’s new advisory group, the Civil Justice Council.