Civil justice is now more accessible for everyday Australians

A Monash University study has found Australians’ access to civil justice has improved over the past 20 years with the introduction of ‘no-win-no-charge’ fee arrangements and with more readily available online information from the government.

In a recently published article in the Adelaide Law Review, a Monash-led research team has reported findings from a nationwide study of 574 Australians and their access to civil justice.

The most common legal problems experienced by average Australians were found to be in the areas of employment law, family law, money and debt problems and personal injury.

The research, which was partially funded by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monash Business School Senior Lecturer, Dr Michael Duffy, said ‘high impact’ legal problems reported by the survey included defamation and libel and this may have been affected by the growth of some online social media platforms over the past two decades.

“The findings identified that the legal problem with the second highest impact on lives was reported as defamation or verbal slander, where allegations were made affecting someone’s good reputation. One aspect of this seems to be the popularity of social media platforms as well as online forums and review platforms,” said Dr Duffy.

The single largest factor contributing to perceptions of an increase in access to civil justice was the introduction of ‘no-win-no-charge’ fee arrangements by private law firms. Other factors perceived as increasing access to justice were increased information from the government (such as online information) as well as the availability of class actions.

Perceptions of an overall increase in access to justice were found to be stronger from those in inner urban areas and less so in regional areas.

“Access to legal advice, representation and where necessary, court action, are fundamental in protecting citizens’ rights. The findings of the study are welcome in indicating Australians are supported by the justice system, however we should not be complacent – there are always challenges in maintaining access to the courts and protecting rights,” said Dr Duffy.

Dr Duffy says while the study was conducted before the pandemic, it was safe to assume that many of the common areas in which people sought legal advice would have continued to increase during this period.

“During 2020 there was a rise in the class actions taken out against governments in relation to lockdowns and the number of people seeking legal advice in relation to employment law as a result of unfair dismissals also increased. Family law problems were heightened due to the pressures on relationships during lockdowns and small businesses also turned to legal advice when experiencing cash flow and debt issues,” he said.

“There’s a correlation between the most common legal problems experienced by Australians over the past 20 years and how the recent pandemic has impacted our lives and subsequently our need for legal advice in certain areas.”

 

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