The Law Council Justice Project is building a picture of access to justice across Australia
The Justice Project team are studying the results of submissions and feedback, from more than 130 consultations with legal aid commissions, community legal centres, peak bodies, academics, private practitioners, Judges, courts, government bodies and agencies.
Last week, Justice Project Steering Committee met to discuss the emerging themes and to consider the potential outcomes as the Project enters the next phase.
The Justice Project team has also consulted with the Australian Human Rights Commission to discuss its initial research relating to people with disability and the justice system at the Disability Justice Plan Symposium in Adelaide.
During the consultations, heartbreaking personal examples of racism, discrimination, unmet legal need, and a lack of mechanisms to ensure more accountable decision-making have been heard.
An absence of help to challenge departmental decisions to remove children from their parents’ care was one consistently cited concern. The Justice Project team has also heard that too often, the law is being used as a blunt tool to respond to complex social problems, in the absence of more effective welfare-based measures. One community legal centre described the majority of offences it dealt with as flowing from events surrounding clients’ manic relapses or psychotic attacks.
It highlighted the need for better preventative mental health care to assist its clients to avoid contact with the criminal justice system. Difficulties in accessing legal or fundamental support services in rural, regional and remote parts of Australia, overcrowding of prisons, and lengthy court backlogs have all been reiterated as significant barriers to accessing justice in Australia.
In one remote area, the stark contrast between the availability of juvenile detention, compared with the lack of rehabilitative services to assist young children was reinforced.
However, while there is darkness there is also hope. Examples have emerged of pensioners who have had their homes saved from confiscation by pro bono lawyers, older persons have had public housing evictions overturned; families who have been able to remain together with support and interventions in place; and Community Legal Centres returning dividends to communities devastated by natural disasters.
More than $250,000 from exploitative employers has been returned to newly arrived and refugee communities in Melbourne’s western suburbs over the past two years, thanks to one community legal centre’s culturally appropriate and targeted train-the-trainer program.
Another has developed an online self-help tool which has empowered consumers who were affected by unfair contractual terms, as well as challenging industry behaviour by encouraging insurers to clamp down on dodgy behaviours and address unfair contractual terms. Filming of a selection of case studies for a short documentary film has begun.
The film will highlight the depth and breadth of the Justice Project and personal stories of access to justice trials and tribulations in Australia. The Justice Project team are working on a progress report, which they are looking forward to releasing later this year.