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Speech at the launch of the Commonwealth Courts Portal, Canberra.



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ATTORNEY-GENERAL THE HON ROBERT McCLELLAND MP

Launch

Commonwealth Courts Portal

Judges’ Conference Room

Level 16, Federal Court of Australia

Commonwealth Law Courts Building ,

305 William Street, Melbourne

Tuesday, 17 June 2008, 9.30 am

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[Acknowledgements ]

• First , may I acknowled ge the traditional owners

of the land we meet on - and pay my respects to

their elders, both past and present.

[Other Acknowl edgements ]

• Chief Justice Diana Bryant - Family Court of

Australia

• Chief F ederal Magistrate John Pascoe

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• Acting Chief Justice Peter Gray - Federal Court

of Australia

• Di stinguished guests all

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[Introduction ]

1. Thank you for your welcome this morning.

I am delighted to be here to launch the

Commonwealth Courts Portal - and to thank the

courts for their collaborative efforts.

2. There is a the me that permeates this occasion.

And it is that the law should surely be accessible

at all times and to everyone.

3. The rule of law requires not only that laws be fair

and just , but also that the co mmunity properly

understands those laws. That is why technolo gy is

such an important tool in creating new pathways

to access justice.

4. In particular, t he internet has changed the way in

which courts and lawyers have operated for

centuries and presented new opportunities for

increasing access to justice. While open ju stice

has long been a fundamental principle of our

legal system, it has been the internet which has

really thrown open courts’ doors to the public.

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5. That this change has occurred in the matter of

years has been all the more remarkable. The

internet is now p art of every aspect of our lives

but it was o nly six years ago that the High Court

first wrestled with the technicalities of the

internet revolution in the Dow Jones v Gutnick

case.

“For present purposes, it is convenient to adopt

what was said in that evi dence without diverting

to consider what qualification to, or

amplification of, that evidence might be

necessary to give a complete and entirely

accurate description of the Internet or the World

Wide Web . The World Wide Web is but one

particular service available over the Internet. It

enables a document to be stored in s uch a way

on one computer connected to the Internet that a

person using another computer connected to the

Internet can request and receive a copy of the

document.

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6. Such explanations seem almost quaint in an age

where now most people think little about how so

much information is only a click away.

7. In the law , t he A USTLII website has been an

important tool to greatly increase Australians ’

understanding of and confidence in the justice

system by making court judgments easily

accessible . I am grateful th at AUSTLII ’s

importance has been recognised by the

Australian legal profession through their

willingness to dig deep and support it in its hour

of need. I am confident that willingness to

support AUSTLII will continue .

[Technological advances ]

8. In a simila r way to AUSTLII , t his portal facility

will assist in creating a new pathway to access

justice .

9. All of us who have worked in the law know that

an effective justice system requires the continual

development of more efficient ways to progress

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litigation - fr om filing to finalisation . The courts

portal proves the point .

10. I am certain that practitioners and courts will

enthusiastically embrace this new web -based

service .

For a start it will streamline the delivery of court

services and allow easy access to filed documents .

[Access to justice for litigants ]

11. The Portal also goes a further step - and will

enabl e greater access to the law for litigants.

12. The ‘e-Search ’ facility , initiated in the Federal

Court and the federal law jurisdiction of the

FMC, also allows court users to track the

progress of matters online.

13. Such resources would have been unthinkable just

twenty years ago.

14. The Portal proves that technology can assist in

streamlining court processes .

But it’s also important that traditional court

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registries contin ue striving to improve access to

justice for court users.

15. This is happening .

16. I have been encouraged by initiatives such as the

Combined Registry Project in the Family Court

and the F ederal Magistrates Court.

This included the production of a joint

applicat ion form to streamline the process of

filing family law matters.

17. Litigants are now also able to file general federal

law applications in family law registries .

18. This initiative began as a pilot in a number of

regional locations and is being rolled out acro ss

Australia .

It allows for the seamless filing of applications,

reduces confusion and frustration for litigants,

and ultimately cuts costs.

19. For these good reasons, it ’s an initiative that t he

Government strongly support s.

[Access to justice through ADR p rocesses ]

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20. Recently I announced proposals to strengthen

model litigant obligations to ensure that

government la wyers do all they can to resolve

Government disputes without going to court.

21. I am serious about maximising opportunities for

alternative dispute r esolution to remove

impediments to prompt dispute resolution and to

keep a check on litigation costs.

22. However, when disputes cannot be resolved

outside the courts , better use of technology in

legal proceedings will help to reduc e cost s and

facilitate acces s to justice .

[Mega -litigation ]

23. But there’s more to be achieved - greater

efficiencies to be drawn upon .

24. Take for example so -called ‘mega -litigation’

cases.

25. Many of you have first hand experience of those

large commercial disputes with complex legal

issu es , multiple parties, numerous lawyers,

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thousands of documents and hundreds of

thousands of pages of evidence .

26. Mega -litigation consume s a disproportionate

amount of our court resources - resources paid

for by the public .

27. In such cases technology could ma ke a difference.

Reducing the strain on resources by allowing

documents to be lodged online , or for hearings to

be held electronically , is a worthy goal .

28. The courts are examining these services for the

future - and I commend their work. This portal

is the start not the end point for the kind of court

services that can be provided through the

internet. As I indicated at the beginning of this

speech, the principle of open justice is a

fundamental principle of our system of law. We

must look at new ways of put ting that principle

into practice.

[Conclusion ]

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29. As to today and the progress already made, I

applaud the intent of the portal project , and the

benefits that will flow.

30. Let me say that having a gateway is one thing -

knowing how to open the gate and provid e access

is the intelligent bit .

31. And so I congratulate the Chief Justices, the

Chief Federal Magistrate , their staff and

members of the legal profession for developing

the project .

I wish them well in seeing it through to its

ultimate application.

ENDS