Improving Access to Justice

The Australian Government’s Productivity Commission is taking a 15-month look at Australia’s system of civil dispute resolution.  The focus will be on constraining the costs and improving access to the justice system.

The Commission will examine how much legal representation costs, what the impact of those costs is and whether those costs are in proportion to the disputed issues.

Factors that contribute to the cost of legal representation that will be analysed include the supply of law graduates, legal professional rules and practices, court practices and procedure and lawyers’ billing practices.

Alternative ways of resolving disputes including early intervention measures, different models of legal aid assistance, use of technology and faster procedures will be looked at to see if they can help to lower costs.

The Commission will collect data from across the justice system and this should allow better measurement and evaluation of all of the factors.  This data will also include information about the numbers of Australians who cannot afford legal representation and do not qualify for legal aid.

The draft report is due for release in April 2014 and the final report is due in September 2014.

Locally, in June 2013, the Northern Territory Department of Attorney-General and Justice released an Issues Paper, seeking views on possible amendments to the Small Claims Act to allow for an increase in the claim limit and the exclusion of legal practitioners from the small claims jurisdiction except in certain circumstances.  RLA made a submission, and this can be found at our website.

The Northern Territory Law Society recommended we wait until the Productivity Commission has finalised its report before introducing legislative change.