The Victorian Bar Association (VBA) and the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) have this week praised a decision by the state government to follow through with funding for a suite of access to justice reforms.
Yesterday, Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula announced a $34.7 million injection of state funds would go towards most of the recommended reforms.
Bar association president Jennifer Batrouney QC said the multimillion-dollar pledge would help support some of the most disadvantaged members of the community in their interactions with the justice system.
“This funding demonstrates a commitment to support the courts in managing an ever-increasing demand on their resources,” Ms Batrouney said.
“The Victorian Bar made a considered contribution to the Access to Justice Review, and we are pleased that the government is adopting almost all of the 60 recommendations made,” she said.
The final report for Victoria’s Access to Justice Review was released last October, with a total of 60 recommendations for change.
The Attorney-General said that 57 of those recommendations had been accepted by the government in-part, with some advice for change being referred to the courts.
Mr Pakula added that the Andrews government also planned to consider the remaining three recommendations.
“This will help break down the barriers for many Victorians, particularly those who face significant disadvantages, so they can access legal services and support when they need them,” the Attorney-General said.
“It will make our legal system fairer and more equitable with better access to legal information, support and advice.”
Commenting on the $34.7 million justice funding announcement, LIV president Belinda Wilson said it was pleasing to see the government listening to the experts who made submissions for the review.
“The state government should be congratulated for listening to the Access to Justice issues and for providing a strong response and investment to improve the system,” Ms Wilson said.
The LIV president also welcomed the decision to establish the Victoria Law Foundation as a centre for excellence of data analysis and research.
The money adds to a $103.7 million package that was already committed by the Victorian government to enhance the justice system and legal assistance services in the last budget.
In 2015, Victoria’s department of justice and regulation led the review initiative with assistance from Crown Melinda Richards SC and former chair of Queensland Legal Aid Commission Rachel Hunter.
The review looked at systemic issues as to how people enter into the legal system, the scope of alternative dispute options available to everyday people and the extent to which Commonwealth and state resources can cater to the demand for legal aid.
A statement released by the VBA said that the funding recognises the pro bono legal services many private practitioners, including barristers, provide to members of the Victorian community.
On the subject of legal aid, the group supports the measures to ensure that the Victorian Legal Aid Board has a mix of appropriate skills. The VBA also commended new measures to improve the transparency of briefing practices at Victoria Legal Aid.
Better transparency measures so far as briefing matters and the operation of legal aid more generally would ensure best use is made of the resources for legal assistance services, the VBA said.
Among the reforms LIV is most pleased the government has decided to back includes funding for specialists to support and help self-represented litigants navigate the legal system, and new options for diverting people from civil litigation into alternative services where appropriate, such as a ‘triage’ model.
LIV also highlighted a $6.26 million commitment towards increasing alternative dispute resolution services for small claims at VCAT to help more people resolve legal issues earlier and avoid hearing costs. Almost $800,000 has been set aside for an Australian-first pilot for an online dispute resolution service.