Access to Justice
It is a core principle of the rule of law that justice must be accessible to all.
Provision of justice through a functioning, adequately resourced legal system is a core responsibility of the government. Budget crises require budgetary responses, not inroads into the rule of law and access to justice. The sheer volume of legislation passed by parliament and the complexity of some laws can make it extremely difficult to know what the law is, and compounds the complexity of cases that come before the courts.
This trend ultimately reduces certainty and confidence in the legal system which erodes the rule of law.
Elements of Access to Justice
- People require access to the courts and legal processes
The court system is an adversarial system, requiring both parties to present evidence and argue their case in court.
- People who make legal decisions must be free from bias and make decisions based on the law
Decision-makers in courts and tribunals must make decisions according to the law and be impartial. They must also ensure that each party receives a fair trial or hearing.
- Legal Aid is important in a complex and adversarial legal system
Legal Aid is an essential service that provides legal representation for those who cannot afford a lawyer. Its funding is limited and it cannot assist all people who have a legal issue.
- Pro bono work from lawyers where Legal Aid is not available
Many lawyers and law firms provide their time for free to assist people who cannot afford legal representation. This is called ‘pro bono’.
- The Legal System must make reasonable allowances for self-represented litigants
Due to the high cost of legal representation, many people have started representing themselves in court. These people are called self-represented litigants (SRLs).
You can learn more about self-represented litigants through the following resources:
Dietrich v The Queen Casenote
This case established the principle that a person charged with a serious criminal offence should have their trial stayed until they can obtain legal representation.
Attorney General's Department- Access to Justice
The Attorney-General’s Department is responsible for coordinating government policy and projects that improve access to justice.
The Magna Carta and Access to Justice
The Magna Carta is an important document in legal history that set out many of the principles on which we base the rule of law. It was granted in 1215, over 800 years ago, but the ideas about access to the courts, due process and that judges should know the law and follow it remain as important now as they did then.