Access to Justice
The current discussion within the profession about self-represented litigants (LawTalk, 860) points to a broader issue that is close to our hearts – access to justice.
Providing and improving access to justice has been the mission for Auckland Community Law Centre since we were established in 1977.
The hidden underbelly of the rise in self-litigants are those claimants who simply give up their just claims because the legal process is too hard. It is a special breed of person who represents themselves in court – courageous and tenacious (or in some cases foolhardy). However, for every self-litigant there will be many whose claims go unenforced.
Ensuring that just claims get enforced is a key focus for community law centres.
Unfortunately, law centres have fewer resources to call on when litigation is required. In 2011 Auckland Community Law Centre devoted 75% of its resources to litigation services. In 2014 litigation services were restricted to just 15%. These changes are a result of purchasing decisions made by the Ministry of Justice.
On top of this is a funding freeze for all law centres dating back to 2008 which has eroded our own purchasing power by around 10%. There is no doubt this erosion of our capacity to represent people has aggravated the self-litigant issue.
Self-litigants should be supported but there are risks: the more they are supported the more likely it is they will go to court.
We suggest targeting this issue in two places:
- focus on early resolution to reduce the flow of self-litigants; and
- generously support those whose only option is to litigate.
Community law centres seem an ideal vehicle for delivering parts of this solution: we have an infrastructure in place; we have pedigree in improving access to justice. We already work with an early resolution focus and are actively working on increasing pro bono support through the litigation process.
By developing these attributes an opportunity exists to improve access to the courts for self-litigants and, more broadly, access to justice for our communities. With appropriate support and investment in community law many access to justice challenges can be tackled.
Auckland Community Law Centre
I am writing this on behalf of the little people: little in stature, little in status, little in importance – really, just little, little people who, by happenstance, happen to practise law from tiny little offices with no view and, to put it bluntly, bugger all light.
The work we do is of little importance. Our clients, having been rejected by bigger lawyers, have lost their will to succeed but, nevertheless, want to trudge on. Indeed, that is what we do: we help people trudge.
We look up, wistfully, at the BIG awards, such as “INTERNATIONAL DEAL OF THE YEAR” and “NEW ZEALAND DEAL OF THE YEAR”, which compels me to ask: “Why can’t we have some recognition of the work we do in supporting trudging?”
That murmur soon replies: “We’ll have our own awards.” I can see it now: somewhere flash like the public bar at the Strand Hotel with everyone wearing a shirt with a collar. And we’ll have a bouncer at the door, to keep people away from our keg.
I’m doing it – not just yet because I’ll have to save for the shirt – but I’m going to get started and if you’ll print this letter calling for nominations, I’ll be well on the way.
Nominations are called for the following categories:
- Biggest Little Deal in Pukekohe;
- Longest Letter to the Minister of Immigration;
- Most Implausible Successful Plea for an Adjournment (subcategories for civil, family and criminal courts);
- Fewest Complaints to my Friends at Standards Committee 3;
- Most Spartan Casebook which, nevertheless, technically complies with rule 7.39; and
- Most Final Adjournments in any Insolvency Proceeding, whether corporate or personal.