Challenges for the New Year
The first edition of LawTalk for 2016 continues the theme of Access to Justice. This LawTalk looks at the role of community law centres in providing access to justice for thousands of people.
There is no silver bullet solution to minimise the barriers to access to justice for thousands of New Zealanders. In a November edition of LawTalk (Issue 878, 20 November 2015) James Greenland, in "Mind the Gap – Closing the Justice Gap", explored the issues and proposed some possible solutions. He pointed out that better funding for legal aid and other State services would go some way toward bridging the justice gap but would never be the total solution. No matter how much public money is expended, the demand for information and knowledge about legal rights, and access to dispute resolution processes is insatiable. Better access can only be achieved by a myriad of initiatives, including changes to the way we provide and bill for legal services. In the article, James throws out the challenge to lawyers to contribute to the solutions. He refers to Justice Winkelmann's comments in her 2014 Ethel Benjamin address. She said that individually lawyers must remember why they started law in the first place, recapture their passion and remember the positive impact the law and they can have on society. She noted that "the profession needs to explore new business models".
The Law Society Board chose "Access to Justice" as one of the important issues for the Law Society to focus on over the next few years. Part of that initiative is to gather and publish the information and possible options in a researched and digestible manner. This is done on the basis that it would, in turn, attract feedback, thought and proposals for solutions from within and outside the profession. Why not use the best legal brains in the country?
This issue of LawTalk features some of those initiatives and ideas. These include from Chief Judge Doogue outlining the initiatives developed by the Judiciary in the District Court and Judge Harvey's piece on Online Courts.
In his November article James reminded lawyers of our social contract with the state, which grants and enforces our privileges (whatever the area of the law in which we practice) but expects in return that we act as responsible professionals and meet our obligations to clients and the court. This includes consideration of how we can best contribute to making legal services more accessible.
President elect Kathryn Beck said in her "From the Law Society" column (issue 878): "We need to review and reflect on our current system and how it can be improved. How can we bring it up to date, make the most of the tools that we have and develop a response to the issues we are finding? This includes issues of cost, timeliness, and complexity."
The justice gap gives us plenty of food for thought and challenges for the New Year for us all. Aspects of the justice gap and possible solutions will be addressed in LawTalk over coming editions.
In the meantime, we should celebrate the contribution made by many lawyers. These include those hundreds of lawyers each year who give freely of their time and expertise to assist in community law centres. They assist and support the lawyers employed by the law centres and enable the centres to deal with thousands of matters and queries they receive each year – often from those who otherwise would have no access to justice.