Government lawyers will be key to shifting a legal culture of litigation to one of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) - but the process must be effectively managed, the Federal Attorney General Robert McClelland said Monday.
Speaking at the Government Law Group Forum, McClelland shared how Commonwealth agencies could play a role in better increasing the use of ADR in Australia, following the National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council's (NADRAC) inquiry into the use of ADR in the civil justice system late last year.
McClelland labeled ADR as much a management issues as it is one of legal practice, and said it must be treated as such in Commonwealth agencies. "This means that effective ADR requires management to empower the participating legal offices to negotiate effectively and as early in the proceedings as possible," he said.
Too often, added McClelland, legal officers are attending ADR ill prepared for the issues at hand - often also with no authority to actually settle a matter.
To this end, McClelland said he recognised a need for training and education to better encourage government lawyers to use ADR - a recommendation to have eventuated out of the Access to Justice Taskforce and NADRAC.
McClelland's comments follow the Access to Justice (Civil Litigation Reforms) Amendment Bill passed by Parliament in November last year, which places an overarching obligation on litigants, legal practitioners and the Federal Court to resolve disputes quickly, inexpensively and as efficiently as possible.
"Given the growing importance of ADR in the resolution of Commonwealth disputes, there is a need for agency staff to better understand how different processes can be used," said McClelland.