Productivity Commision invites submissions on access to justice report

A number of barriers that prevent people from resolving civil disputes in a timely and affordable way should be removed, according to a draft report released by the Productivity Commission.

The Commission has found opportunities to improve:

  • the accessibility of the system
  • the structure and operations of ombudsmen, tribunals and courts
  • the use of alternative forms of dispute resolution
  • the regulation of the legal profession
  • private funding of litigation
  • the provision of legal aid, both broadly, and specifically to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“The civil justice system touches the lives of all Australians, from disputes with their electricity provider, claims against insurance companies, disputes with local councils, through to domestic violence and divorce. Many of these interactions occur ‘in the shadow’ of the formal system. This complexity makes it difficult to assess and design policies to improve accessibility and constrain costs — these challenges are compounded by a lack of data,” Presiding Commissioner Dr Warren Mundy said.

“Even judges and lawyers have told us the formal parts of the system are too slow, expensive and hard to understand. We have focused our attention on problems that impact significantly on individuals and small businesses that, without government intervention, are likely to go unresolved.”

“The Commission has approached this inquiry by weighing up the potential of a range of possible responses to these problems to improve community wellbeing and the costs that would be associated with such responses. We have also identified a number of measures that should improve the efficiency of the civil justice system.”

“Even if these measures were implemented, the system will remain out of reach for some people — either due to the nature of the dispute or because they experience significant disadvantage. Consequently, the Commission has also examined how consumers might be better equipped to deal with large and unexpected legal costs, and how best to assist disadvantaged Australians to access the civil justice system. In particular, we have looked closely at how much, and how well, legal assistance money is spent and are seeking more information to develop recommendations in this area,” Dr Mundy said.

The Commission’s inquiry does not address criminal justice issues.

The Commission is inviting submissions on the draft report, its recommendations and information requests by 21 May 2014 and intends holding public hearings in all capital cities during June.