A new wave of justice reform
Over recent decades, successive waves of justice reforms have occurred in many countries, including Australia, with the aim of ameliorating inequality in access to justice. Mirroring these reforms, the concept of ‘access to justice’ has expanded from a unidimensional to an increasingly multifaceted concept. Initially, ‘access to justice’ was tightly focused on access to the formal justice system, consistent with the first wave of justice system reforms, which aimed to equalise access to lawyers and the courts through the provision of legal aid and CLCs (see Macdonald 2005). Subsequently, in line with new waves of reforms to establish a variety of preventative and early intervention strategies, the concept of access to justice has successively extended beyond access to the formal justice system to additionally include access to legal information and education, non-court-based dispute resolution and law reform (see Macdonald 2005).
In Australia, despite substantial reforms, empirical studies and inquiries on access to justice have invariably continued to recommend further improvements (see Sackville 2011). Sackville (2011) argued that access to justice may be an ideal that cannot be fully realised. He contended that narrowing the gap between the ideal and the reality requires a more ‘integrated’ approach to justice that is guided by integrated empirical evidence and evaluation, is supported by both state/territory and federal governments and necessitates the injection of substantial resources.
A new wave of justice reform has emerged recently in the UK with the objective of achieving a more integrated approach to justice. This latest wave of reform includes introducing a large system of CLACs and CLANs to deliver coordinated legal and non-legal services (Buck et al. 2010a, 2010b; Fox et al. 2010). The policy impetus for this reform came from CSJS findings indicating that existing legal services were too fragmented to deal effectively with the clusters of legal problems that are commonly experienced by many people, especially socially excluded groups. These clusters of legal problems were shown to impact dramatically on a range of life circumstances, indicating the need for a coordinated response from legal and broader human services (Fox et al. 2010). CLACs and CLANs aim to provide a more coordinated response to legal problems by improving the:
- accessibility of services via co-location or networking of local services
- seamlessness of services from reception through to finalisation
- integration of services to detect and address multiple, interrelated problems
- tailoring of services to allow for more intensive support for the most vulnerable clients (Buck et al. 2010b; Fox et al. 2010).(3)
This latest wave of justice reform aiming to provide a more integrated approach to service provision is only just beginning to reach Australian shores. As will be detailed later, similar large-scale initiatives have not taken place in Australia, although integrating or ‘joining up’ legal and non-legal services has recently been placed on the national agenda (see COAG 2010).
The LAW Survey provides valuable empirical evidence that can be used to inform what a more integrated approach to justice might look like in Australia. It indicates the benefit of a more ‘holistic’ approach to justice in Australia that is both integrated and multifaceted. First, the LAW Survey supports a more holistic approach that better integrates legal and non-legal services. Similarly to past surveys, it provides compelling evidence in the Australian context that legal problems often cluster together, adversely impact a variety of life circumstances and are most prominent in the disadvantaged sections of the community that already have a range of non-legal needs.
Second, the LAW Survey supports a holistic approach to justice that is multifaceted, in that it includes multiple strategies to cater for the diverse needs of the whole population. It reinforces that justice must be ‘made to measure’ according to the varying legal needs and legal capabilities of different people. For example, the promotion of self-help strategies may be beneficial for more knowledgeable, articulate people, while intensive assistance services may be critical for disadvantaged people, who tend to struggle with the weight of their problems.
More specifically, the LAW Survey findings suggest that a more holistic approach to justice would include all of the following strategies:
- legal information and education
- self-help strategies
- accessible legal services
- non-legal advisers as gateways to legal services
- integrated legal services
- integrated response to legal and non-legal needs
- tailoring of services for specific problems
- tailoring of services for specific demographic groups.
Reliance on only one or a few strategies is likely to fall short of achieving justice for the whole community. In addition, a more holistic approach to justice in Australia is unlikely to be achieved simply by injecting more resources into the existing network of legal services, although additional funding and resourcing may be necessary (see Sackville 2011). Rather, a more holistic approach involves reshaping service provision through integrated, multifaceted strategies to target resources more efficiently, in order to streamline access to justice and enhance legal resolution. Importantly, several of the proposed strategies for a more holistic approach to justice require greater integration not only within the justice sector, but also across governments and government sectors — that is, a new, whole-of-government approach.
The more holistic approach to justice proposed on the basis of the LAW Survey has the potential to enhance prevention and early intervention, by more efficiently and effectively resolving legal problems in their entirety before they escalate, multiply and resonate in numerous life areas. By achieving legal resolution more quickly and more completely, such an approach can potentially lead to cost savings in the long term, by reducing the number of ineffectual contacts with legal and broader human services and by avoiding expensive court resolution (see Balmer et al. 2010; Buck et al. 2010b; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Genn 1999; Macdonald 2005; Pleasence 2006). Targeting limited resources more effectively through strategies that enhance early intervention is becoming crucial, given today’s financial climate. Legal aid organisations around the world are facing considerable challenges in extending their reach within a context of intense competition for limited resources among different areas of public service delivery (Balmer et al. 2010).
The strategies identified by the LAW Survey as potentially useful components of a holistic approach to justice are discussed in turn below. It is important to note, however, that the successful implementation of initiatives with prospective merit can be impeded by a variety of factors in practice. Thus, it is critical that new service initiatives, including any based on the LAW Survey, are carefully evaluated.(4)
For example, initiatives to increase legal information, education and self-help strategies, and initiatives to increase the accessibility, integration and tailoring of legal and non-legal services, should all be informed by appropriately conceived evaluation.
3. The ongoing operation of CLACs and CLANs is uncertain, given the likely cut to legal aid spending as part of the recently proposed 23 per cent reduction in the annual budget for the Ministry of Justice by 2014–2015 (Ministry of Justice 2010). The results of an evaluation of CLACs are provided later in this chapter, in the ‘Models of service integration’ section.
4. Further discussion of the importance of evaluating legal service initiatives is provided later in this chapter, in the ‘Evaluation’ section.