National Press Club Address
Caption: Fiona McLeod SC, Sabra Lane, and Morry Bailes.
Law Council President Morry Bailes and immediate past-President Fiona McLeod, SC addressed the National Press Club of Australia on March 14, co-presenting the Law Council’s first “Justice State of the Nation” address.
During the address, Mr Bailes and Ms McLeod announced early recommendations from the Justice Project and released the Progress Report, which reflected the key themes of the consultation period.
Early recommendations include:
- A need for a whole-of-government approach to reform: reflecting what the Justice Project team has heard is working in pockets on the ground, it's clear that we must move beyond thinking about justice issues within the silos of law enforcement, courts and legal services. We must embed access to justice within multi-disciplinary policy and funding frameworks - where the lawyer or solicitor is co-located with the doctor, the nurse, the community nurse, the social worker, the mental health professional, and together they provide advice and support to the people who come through the door.
- The introduction of Justice Impact Tests for government policies: now in place in the UK, Justice Impact Tests would mean that every government policy process must factor in how any new policy would impact on the justice system - from health to welfare, and education to housing.
- Additional major funding for legal assistance and the courts: The Law Council estimates that, as a minimum, an additional $390 million per annum is required to get the legal assistance system back on its feet. We also need to adequately resource our overloaded courts, where waiting times in the Family Court stretch up to three years. We also need a National Justice Interpreter Scheme.
Mr Bailes told the Press Club, the legal profession and the courts are often the only vehicles for righting a wrong and correcting injustices and the rule of law must be there for all of us in equal measure.
However, our longstanding reputation as a fair, open-hearted and prosperous country with a strong legal system has distracted us from an uncomfortable truth: the growing numbers of people unable to access justice who are excluded from that system and thus from equality before the law.
Mr Bailes spoke of the people who are “cut-off” - the most disadvantaged and impoverished among us, but also the growing numbers in the “missing middle”.
“These are the ordinary working people who cannot afford legal representation for everyday legal concerns such as commercial matters, family law, injury compensation,” Mr Bailes said.
“Given the importance of law, the importance of law to the fabric of our society, the importance of people to be able to access the courts and access justice, it ought not be a user-pays system.
“It ought to be part of the fabric of our great country. And to think that governments, when it comes to people in poverty, where a transport fine in Victoria can be more than the Newstart wage allowance per week and what that will do to someone is reprehensible,” he said.
Ms McLeod recounted the harrowing cases of the stories she heard during the consultation process. Women who had babies removed from them while in prison within 24 hours of those babies being born, women afraid to phone for help in situations of domestic violence for fear of being locked up themselves due to unpaid fines, children detained under third-strike laws for stealing a $1.50 can of soft drink.
“Based upon compelling data about the structural and procedural failings of our legal system and drawing upon the close-up experiences of the Project team, the report paints a picture of a system under extreme duress — in fact, a system in crisis —and it provides us with the absolutely necessary steps we have to take to remedy that dire situation,” she said.
The Final Report was released on 23 August 2018. You can access the Final Report here.
You can access the Progress Report, National Press Club “Justice State of the Nation” address and media release below.