Access to Justice Arrangements

Draft report

This report was released on 8 April 2014. You were invited to examine the draft report and to make written submissions and to participate in public hearings. Submissions were due by 21 May 2014.

Download the overview

The overview publication contains the overview, a summary table of the main recommendations and a list of draft findings, recommendations and information requests.

Download the full report

Preliminaries, Chapters 1 to 10

This document contains information set out in the overview document above but also looks at the accessibility of the justice system, and the structure and operations of ombudsmen, tribunals and courts.

Chapters 11 to 24, Appendix A and References

This document contains discussion on the use of alternative forms of dispute resolution; the regulation of the legal profession; private funding of litigation; and the provision of legal aid, both broadly, and specifically to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Appendices B to J

Printed copies

Printed copies of the full report can be purchased from Canprint Communications.

  • There are widespread concerns that Australia's civil justice system is too slow, too expensive and too adversarial. But the notion of a civil justice 'system' is misleading. Parties can resolve their disputes in many ways, including through courts, tribunals and ombudsmen. Each differs in its formality, cost and timeliness. Such a complex system resists both a single diagnosis and remedy.
  • While much focus is on the courts, and they are the central pillar of the justice system, much is done in the shadow of the law knowledge of what might happen if a dispute ends up in court prompts many to resolve their disputes privately.
  • Where disputes become intractable, parties have recourse to a range of low cost and informal dispute resolution mechanisms. But many people have difficulty in identifying whether and where to seek assistance they either take no action or seek help from inappropriate sources.
  • Providing people with basic information so that they can resolve their disputes privately and helping people connect with less formal mechanisms, such as ombudsmen, could significantly reduce the level of unmet legal need.
  • Most parties require professional legal assistance in more complex matters. But the interests of lawyers and their clients do not always align clients need to be better informed and have more options for selecting the tasks they want assistance with, and how they will be billed. Clients should also have independent and effective options for redress when professional standards fall short.
  • Some disputes, by their nature, are more appropriately handled through the courts. While these disputes may be small in number, many individuals are poorly placed to meet the associated costs. Court processes in all jurisdictions have undergone reforms to reduce the cost and length of litigation. But progress has been uneven and more needs to be done to avoid unnecessary expense.
  • The way in which parties interact with each other and with courts and tribunals also needs to change. The adversarial behaviour of parties and their lawyers can hinder the resolution of disputes or even exacerbate them. Changes to rules governing the conduct of parties and lawyers, and the way in which costs are awarded, would improve incentives to cooperate. Parties derive significant private benefits from using the court system; these benefits need to be reflected in court charges.
  • Disadvantaged Australians are more susceptible to, and less equipped to deal with, legal disputes. Governments have a role in assisting these individuals. Numerous studies show that government funded legal assistance services generate net benefits to the community.
  • Funding arrangements constrain the capacity of legal assistance providers to direct assistance to the areas of greatest benefit. This needs to change and, in some cases, funding needs to be redirected.
  • More resources and more efficient and effective practices by legal assistance providers are required to better meet the legal needs of disadvantaged Australians.

Background information

Dominique Lowe (Assistant Commissioner) 02 6240 3316