Discussing the Government's access to justice agenda this week, Attorney-General Robert McClelland announced the introduction of a Civil Dispute Resolution Bill as part of the Government's Strategic Framework for Access to Justice.
The Strategic Framework is based on five principles including accessibility, appropriateness, equity, efficiency and effectiveness. McClelland said the principle of accessibility, upon which the Bill is based, is about resolving disputes at the most appropriate level and in the most appropriate way.
"People should have access to a range of options to resolve disputes but there should also be a "proportionality" check on which options are selected," McClelland said in his speech at the launch of National Law Week.
McClelland said the Bill is aimed at encouraging "a move away from the traditional view that courts resolve all disputes" and implements key recommendations by the National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council (NADRAC) by requiring "prospective litigants to take genuine steps to attempt to resolve their disputes before commencing proceedings in federal courts".
Mediator and member of NADRAC Steve Lancken said the impact of the legislation will vary but if it has the intended purpose, he said it will provide a "profoundly beneficial change".
"On one level, for those people who are committed to resolving their disputes in the most appropriate way already, it will have no impact.
"At another level, where organisations are used to going directly to lawyers and the default position is to commence or defend proceedings, it will have a big impact, because those organisations will have to change their way of thinking..." he said.
Lancken said some lawyers will initially think the legislation will result in higher costs. "[However] the reality is they will save the upfront costs of the litigation process and all the extra stuff that entails...so it's more of a change of where and how you spend your money on the dispute."
- Briana Everett