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Thursday, 4 December 2003
Page: 24082

Mr McClelland asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 15 October 2003:

(1) Is he or his department aware of any research, reports or submissions which address the relationship between legal aid policies and levels of self-representation before courts and tribunals; if so, what are the details.

(2) What steps is he taking to address the number of Australians going before courts and tribunals without legal representation.

Mr Ruddock (Attorney-General) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) The Attorney-General's Department is aware that there is a range of reports and submissions that make reference to this issue, including a number of submissions to the current Senate Inquiry into Legal Aid and Access to Justice. It would not be practical for my Department to provide details of all such material to which it has had access. However, the following may be of assistance:

Family Court of Australia, Self-Represented Litigants - A Challenge: Project Report, Family Court of Australia, 2003

Hunter, R, Genovese, A, Chrzanowski, A & Morris, C. The changing face of litigation: unrepresented litigants in the Family Court of Australia, Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales, 2002, and

Hunter, R, Giddings, J & Chrzanowski, A. Legal Aid and Self-Representation in the Family Court of Australia: A study to examine the relationship between the limited availability of legal aid funds for family law matters and the phenomenon of self-representing litigants in the Family Court, Socio-Legal Research Centre, Griffith University, May 2003.

(2) The Government is aware that there are increasing numbers of self-represented litigants appearing in the High Court, Federal Court, Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court and that all courts are giving close consideration to how to provide more effective assistance to these litigants. The Government will continue to work with the courts on this issue. The Government has provided funding across the broad network of dispute resolution services. These include primary dispute resolution services, community legal services, clinical legal education programs and Australian Law Online.

A Project Team within the Attorney-General's Department is developing a strategy paper on the future of the federal civil justice system. The Team will examine the issue of increasing numbers of self-represented litigants and the consequences for federal courts, amongst other things.

A list of initiatives from bodies within the Attorney-General's portfolio to assist self-represented litigants is below:

the Family Court project, `Self-represented Litigants - a Challenge', launched on 5 December 2000, which is aimed at developing a coordinated national approach to service delivery for self-represented litigants

the Family Law Council's report, Litigants in Person (August 2000), which examined the effects of self-representation on the way in which a case was conducted

the Family Court Future Directions Committee's report (July 2000) on problems confronting self-represented litigants, which lists recommendations for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of court services

the Federal Court's Self Represented Litigants Management Plan, adopted in August 2002 to better meet the needs of Federal Court Self Represented Litigants,

the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Outreach Program, which provides information about the Tribunal's practices and processes to people who are unrepresented, and

the Federal Magistrate Court's project `A day in the life of a self-represented litigant', which is designed to give the court a better understanding of the needs of self-represented litigants and assist it to address those needs.

The Family Law Assistance Program funded through the Community Legal Services Program assists people who would otherwise be unrepresented before the Family Court of Australia Dandenong Registry. This service is run by Monash University and Monash-Oakleigh Legal Service with assistance from the Victorian Court Network.

The Caxton Community Legal Service in Queensland receives funding to operate a specialist Family Law clinic in partnership with Griffith University School of Law which provides advice and support for litigants in person.

The NSW Court Support Scheme which is also funded through the Commonwealth Community Legal Services Program provides court users with information on court procedure, sources of legal assistance and general information, support and referral to individuals affected by the judicial system.

The Government funds a wide range of family support services under the Family Relationships Services Program to help families stay together and, where they do separate, to assist separating families to resolve family law disputes in a non-adversarial way outside the courts where possible.

Under this program the Attorney-General's Department funds community based services which provide family relationship counselling, family mediation, conciliation, primary dispute resolution services in regional areas and children's contact services.

The 2003-04 appropriation to the Attorney-General for the Family Relationships Services Program is $29.7m.