Consumer Action has provided a submission to the Productivity Commission on its Issues Paper, Access to Justice Arrangements.
The key points and recommendations made in this submission are:
- The inquiry should focus on how the justice system can efficiently deliver just outcomes rather than only procedural access to justice.
- Access to justice creates broader community benefits, including by improving the efficiency of markets.
- Community legal centres are more efficient if they combine direct service provision with strategic work like policy, law reform and advocacy.
- Prevention and early intervention is important, but efforts in these areas must go much further than simply education or information campaigns.
- A combination of generalist and specialist community legal centres creates a far more efficient and effective legal assistance system than could be achieved with generalist centres alone.
- Appropriate linking of legal services with other community welfare services—for example, linking financial counselling and consumer credit legal services—is an efficient way of extending legal assistance services.
- ADR and mediation processes should be made more transparent, by being subject to regular and public evaluations, so as to contribute to quality outcomes and efficient resolution of common legal problems.
- Moves towards a ‘user pays’ approach for application fees in tribunals undermines the purpose of having tribunals and so reduces access to justice and creates inefficiencies.
- Court and tribunal fee waiver processes should be designed to remove barriers for applicants who have already been assessed as having a very low income.
- Any limitations on legal representation at tribunals should be flexible to ensure that limits do not inhibit efficiency or produce power imbalances between parties.
- Efficiencies in court processes that produce unjust outcomes, such as default judgment processes, can actually undermine efficiency by imposing social costs on individuals affected.
- Court rules or legislation should be introduced that expressly give courts discretion to provide protection against adverse costs orders to public interest litigants.
- Measures should be taken to encourage private funding of litigation, whether by class action lawyers or litigation funders, as an efficient means of providing access to justice by reducing the reliance on public funding for litigation.
- The tax deductibility of legal costs for business creates inequity between business and individual litigants and means business pays a smaller contribution towards the publicly funded legal system than do other litigants, despite being heavy users of that system.
- Funders should resource, enable and encourage community legal centres to develop evaluation tools best suited to the nature of their service.
There are benefits of using social return on investment methodology to assess and track the social benefits and impact of the access to justice arrangements.
A full copy of our submission is available by clicking: Access to Justice Arrangements.
Attachment A: Solving problems – a strategic approach Examples, processes & strategies. A report exploring issues in community centre legal practice, commissioned by the Consumer Action Law Centre and the Footscray Community Legal Centre – Version 2