Access to justice is fundamental to ensuring that core values of our community are translated into practice. Those values include the rule of law, fairness, and equity. Access to justice works to ensure that citizens are treated fairly by government; it supports social cohesion and a common commitment to the life and institutions of the community; and it encourages economic prosperity by providing a reliable mechanism through which citizens can resolve their disputes.
Yet the practical capacity of many citizens to gain access to justice is diminishing, and the gap between the Victorian community’s needs, and the justice system’s ability to meet those needs, is growing.
The Review found a great deal of goodwill and dedication among institutions and service providers – people committed to doing their best to serve the growing needs and expectations of the Victorian community – despite the significant challenges in the justice system, including the legal assistance sector. Unfortunately, some important enablers of the system are weak: there is a lack of data, poor technology in many parts of the system, under-resourcing of legal assistance and related services, and services that are not sufficiently integrated.
The justice system is comprised of inter-connected components – users, the courts and tribunals, dispute resolution and complaints bodies, publicly-funded legal assistance providers, private practitioners, and administrators. This system is under stress. Stress in one part of the system has an influence on others.
It is with a keen sense of gratitude to the workers and volunteers who keep the system going, and an understanding of the seriousness of the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians, that the Review makes recommendations to improve the services provided to meet Victorians’ legal needs, and maximise the efficiency with which public resources are used.