Access to Justice Review

Access to Justice Review

Access to justice is the glue that binds our democracy and civil society together.

But, critical underinvestment in legal assistance services has seen tens of thousands of Victorians miss out on the help they need, says our submission to the State Government’s Access to Justice Review.

It shows that Victoria’s legal assistance sector is underfunded compared to New South Wales. It calls for an additional investment of $72 million annually, including $42 million from the Victorian Government.

Read our submission:

Submission to the Access to Justice Review (pdf, 1.92 MB)

Submission to the Access to Justice Review (docx, 1.52 MB)

Our submission identifies 10 ‘touchstones’ that will unlock the potential of our justice system and enable us to safeguard rights and help more people. It explains how reforms can help deliver improved access to justice for all Victorians.

10 ways to increase access to justice for all Victorians

Person presenting

1. A more vibrant, joined up legal assistance and allied support sector

Improved coordination and collaborative service planning will ensure high impact services are provided where there is the greatest need.

Support for our efforts to plan and make evidence-based decisions about how resources are allocated across the state would ensure limited funding is used in the most effective way.

woman on the telephone helpline

2. Bigger and better access to Legal Help’s online and telephone services as the main entry point to the legal assistance sector

Extra investment in Legal Help would allow us to provide legal information, advice, referrals and triage to more people.

We would expand hours of service to include evenings and weekend access, introduce web-chat and provide more integration with our website.

woman smiling

3. Reduced barriers to financial eligibility for legal aid

A restructured legal aid means test is needed to reflect the contemporary experience of disadvantage, poverty and the true cost of legal services.

An expanded means test will ensure legal aid reaches those who don’t qualify now but who genuinely cannot afford to pay for legal assistance and who may give up or forsake their rights altogether.

people looking at papers

4. Incentives for high quality legal aid services and the early appropriate resolution of cases

Extra funding would enable us to ensure private practitioners are appropriately remunerated for the time it takes to complete quality work, ensuring high quality representation for clients.

We would structure fees to incentivise the early, appropriate resolution of cases consistent with good practice and the best interests of clients and the justice system.

outside the Magistrates' Court

5. More time intensive services and other supports for people charged with summary crimes to encourage non-custodial orders where appropriate and reduce re-offending

Extra investment would reduce the crushing demand on our duty lawyer services and enable us to better support our clients and judicial officers.

It would allow us to provide a more intensive service to help identify clients’ needs and to provide courts with the information they need to impose sanctions that address the underlying cause of a person’s offending.

lady looking at bills and papers

6. Expanded specialist civil and family law services, particularly in regional and outer suburban growth corridors

Civil and family law problems have a significant impact on disadvantaged people and if left unaddressed often escalate into more serious issues that are costly for the community and government services.

Extra funding would allow more civil and family law services in areas like tenancy, employment law, discrimination and social security, especially in outer suburban and regional areas.

two young boys hugging each other

7. Commonwealth and state agencies and courts work together to ensure acutely vulnerable families do not fall through the cracks

We support the principle of a unified court which can address family law, family violence and child protection matters to help families which complex needs.

We call on the State Government to join us in advocating for the recommendations of our recent submission to the Family Law Council terms of reference on families with complex needs and implement the recommendations which relate to State Government agencies.

man walking

8. Equitable access to therapeutic justice programs that break the cycle of reoffending and keep our communities safe

Youth diversion programs should also be available to all young Victorians regardless of where they live.

Programs that support accused people on bail to reduce the risk of reoffending , such as CREDIT Bail and the Court Integrated Services Program (CISP), should be available at all courts.

We support the state-wide expansion of specialist courts and programs such as the Drug Court, Koori Court, Assessment and Referral Court List and Neighbourhood Justice Centre which independent evaluations have demonstrated to be cost effective and which make the community safer.

files

9. Properly resourced courts and tribunals with improved listing practices

Many of our courts are over-burdened, often chaotic and this impacts on their ability to provide fair and timely justice. In some areas, listing practices mean that we are not able to offer services in the way we would like. Courts need support to modernise their list and case management practices, so that we can all do better in helping those who need the protection of the law, to feel as if they have been truly heard.

person using a tablet

10. A strengthened evidence and innovation base

An independent function should be created to carry out research to explore better service design.

Innovative solutions to meet the legal needs of disadvantaged Victorians must embrace the digital revolution and new thinking will be required to conceive new solutions.

Read the full submission

Submission to the Access to Justice Review (pdf, 1.92 MB)

Submission to the Access to Justice Review (docx, 1.52 MB)

About the review

The Access to Justice Review, announced by the Victorian Attorney-General in October 2015, will consider a broad range of issues relating to access to justice, including the role of Victoria Legal Aid in ensuring disadvantaged Victorians get the help they need. It is expected to deliver its final report in August 2016.

Last year more than 85,000 people had a Victoria Legal Aid funded lawyer to help with their legal matter. We also funded more than 83,600 duty lawyer services at courts and tribunals around the state, and took more than 114,000 calls on our Legal Help phone line. But there are still many more people who are missing out on the help they need.

The review provides an opportunity to consider how to better assist people who are missing out on legal help because of where they live, because they can’t afford a lawyer, or because they don’t understand the system.

It also provides an opportunity to build on the work being done to improve collaboration and co-ordination in the legal assistance sector.

Blogs

Agitating for more and better justice, Bevan Warner

Character and leadership the keys to successful advocacy, Bevan Warner

Making legal help more accessible, Dan Nicholson

Musings on you, me and the law, Bevan Warner

What price justice?, Bevan Warner

Snapshot

The legal assistance landscape – find out more about legal assistance in Victoria and Victoria Legal Aid’s role in the sector.

More information

Read about the Access to Justice Review, its terms of reference, and how to make a submission.

Read the Productivity Commission’s final report of the Inquiry into Access to Justice Arrangements and National Legal Aid’s response welcoming the Productivity Commission’s call for $200 million investment in legal assistance services.

The Victorian Auditor General also released a report into Access to Legal Aid in 2014.

Our Strategy 2015–18 sets out our strategic directions to improve Victorians’ access to justice. You can also find out more about:

Contact

If you can’t find the information you are looking for, contact us at accesstojustice@vla.vic.gov.au.