The Victorian Government has expressed support for nearly all of recommendations from the Victorian Access to Justice Review (the Review), commissioned by the Victorian Labor Government in 2015 and undertaken by the Department of Justice and Regulation. The aim was to identify ways to improve access to justice for Victorians, especially those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable.
The Victorian Government agreed with 57 of the 60 recommendations, with the remaining three currently under further consideration.
Among the most significant recommendations, the Government agreed to make Victoria Legal Aid the primary entry point for legal information and assistance, and the State’s legal assistance system manager, thereby putting Victoria Legal Aid clearly at the centre of the legal assistance sector so far as the public and the community legal sector is concerned.
Notably also the Victoria Law Foundation is to change its emphasis to become a centre for excellence on Access to Justice research and data analysis (similar to the NSW Law and Justice Foundation).
In relation to pro bono legal assistance, the Government agreed that:
- The Victorian Government should seek amendments to the Civil Procedure Act 2010 (Vic) to allow an order for costs to be made in favour of a party represented on a pro bono basis, whether or not the party has a legal liability to pay its lawyers. The Government agree to this noting that the Supreme Court of Victoria has recently amended its rules in relation to pro bono costs orders, consistently with the recommendation.
- The Victorian Government should seek amendments to the Civil Procedure Act 2010 (Vic) to specify clearly the criteria to be taken into consideration by the courts in determining protective costs order applications in public interest litigation;
- The Department of Justice and Regulation should undertake a review of the availability and operation of disbursements funding for pro bono cases to determine whether and how such mechanisms could be better utilised to assist pro bono work;
- The Standing Committee of the Legal Profession Uniform Law (comprising the Attorneys-General of Victoria and New South Wales) should seek an amendment to the Professional Conduct Rules to support the provision of unbundled pro bono legal services;
- The Victorian Government should amend the requirements of the Victorian Government Legal Services Panel contract to place greater weight on contributions that deliver pro bono services in areas of unmet legal needs that assist community legal centres and their clients; and,
- The Victorian Government, the Law Institute of Victoria, Victorian Bar, Justice Connect and the Federation of Community Legal Centres should work together to develop and implement strategies to recognise and promote the pro bono contributions made by the legal profession each year, including during Law Week. The Attorney-General should work with professional associations to establish and sponsor a new pro bono contribution award or recognition scheme, which recognises innovative pro bono relationships between community legal centres and law firms.
In response to the Review the Victorian Attorney-General, Martin Pakula, said that $34.7 million worth of government funding will be injected into the Victorian justice system to ensure better access to legal advice, support and information. This is in addition to the $103.7 million that has already been announced as part of the Victorian Budget 2017/18. According to Mr Pakula, “[t]his will help break down the barriers for many Victorians, particularly those who face significant disadvantages, so they can access legal services and support when they need them.”
To read Access to Justice – Government Response, please click here. You can also read the Access to Justice Review: Report and Recommendations Volume 1 and Volume 2.