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Access to Justice Arrangements, Productivity Inquiry Report No. 72

By: Productivity Commission

The Productivity Commission was formed in Australia to undertake an inquiry into Australia’s system of civil dispute resolution with a view to constraining costs and ‘promoting access to justice’. This report is the product of that work and lays out a thorough analysis of the civil justice system in Australia with a substantial list of recommendations for the future.

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.

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 efficient government funded legal assistance services generate net benefits to the community.

The nature and predictability of 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 should be redirected.

While there is some scope to improve the practices of legal assistance providers, this alone will not address the gap in services. More resources are required to better meet the legal needs of disadvantaged Australians.