Disadvantaged Victorians will have better access to legal advice, support and information, thanks to a $34.7 million injection from the Andrews Labor Government.
The funding is part of the Labor Government’s response to the Access to Justice Review, which made 60 recommendations aimed at reducing the barriers disadvantaged people face when accessing the legal system.
The Government has accepted or accepted in-part 57 of the recommendations with some being referred to the courts, and the remaining three recommendations are under further consideration.
The package will deliver $7.23 million for additional legal aid grants to ensure better access to legal representation, and a further $6.85 million will go towards expanding the Legal Help phone service and improving Victoria Legal Aid’s website.
Duty lawyer services will get a $2.59 million boost to provide more assistance to people at court, such as victims of family violence. Another $1.27 million will be spent on increasing translating and interpreter services.
A further $6.26 million will go towards increasing alternative dispute resolution services for small claims at VCAT to help more people resolve legal issues earlier and avoid hearing costs. Almost $800,000 will go towards planning for an Australian-first pilot for an online dispute resolution service.
VCAT will get $4.55 million to modernise and streamline its processes, including introducing automatic online registration of orders. VCAT will also share in a $1.98 million investment with courts to improve its websites and other public resources.
Self-represented litigants will be better supported to navigate the legal system, with the County Court receiving $1.1 million for specialist workers to provide support for self-represented litigants. The Supreme Court will also get more than $2.08 million to enhance judicial mediation services as an alternative to costly civil proceedings.
The package is in addition to the $103.7 million to enhance the justice system and legal assistance services and already announced as part of Victorian Budget 2017/18.
The comprehensive review was commissioned by the Labor Government in 2015 and undertaken by the Department of Justice and Regulation, with the assistance of Crown Counsel, Melinda Richards SC, and the former Chair of the Queensland Legal Aid Commission, Rachel Hunter.
For a copy of the Government’s response, visit https://engage.vic.gov.au/accesstojustice
Quotes attributable to Attorney-General Martin Pakula
“This 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.”
“It will make our legal system fairer and more equitable with better to access to legal information, support and advice.”