The Law Council of Australia has warned that the Commonwealth's access to justice reforms needs to be backed by additional funding in the next Federal Budget.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland released the Strategic Framework for Access to Justice report on Thursday. Recommendations included charging companies for the cost of protracted "mega-litigation", requiring law firms to use event-based billing for government matters and increasing the use of alternative dispute resolutions.
Law Council president John Corcoran called on the Government to support recognition of access to justice issues by ensuring additional funding was given to community legal centres and legal aid commissions.
"The report acknowledges that legal assistance service providers are under increasing pressure as funding has failed to keep pace with demand. The global economic downturn is likely to add to this pressure," he said.
The report cited two long-running cases as examples of mega-litigation - the 13-year Bell Group case, estimated to have cost $500 million, and media proprietor Kerry's Stokes' case over C7, which cost an estimated $200 million.
Corcoran encouraged measures to reduce the length and complexity of litigation.
"The concept of 'mega-litigation' has, in recent times, drawn attention to the impact that private disputes can impose on the resources of the court system. Ultimately, costs should be kept in proportion to the relief being sought, which means that disputes need to be resolved economically," he said.
When releasing the report, McClelland said access to justice was central to the rule of law and integral to the enjoyment of basic human rights.
"It is an essential precondition to social inclusion and a critical element of a well-functioning democracy," he said.
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