The final report, launched on 23 August by former High Court Chief Justice and Honorary ANU Law Professor, the Hon. Robert French AC, is one of the most extensive reviews of its type in 40 years.
“My hope is amidst the political turmoil in Parliament House in Canberra at the moment, that this seminal study and its conclusions will not be buried, and some good policy and funding emerges,” Dr Curran of the ANU School of Legal Practice says.
“This report is about the significant toll on human lives of unresolved legal problems that cause great anxiety and stress and can compound and escalate if good, responsive, holistic, effective legal options and advice cannot be reached.
“It highlights the systemic barriers and difficult to navigate systems. The study and its realistic suggestions can make a difference to people currently excluded or struggling in having their problems addressed be able to avail themselves of the rights that befit an honouring of the Rule of Law, so that they can reach their potential and retain their dignity.”
Dr Curran was an ‘expert adviser’ to the Law Council’s Justice Project Team.
There was an august Steering Group for the Justice Project, led by the Hon. Prof. French. The Law Council delegates began their work in early 2017, held around 150 consultations across Australia, and received 129 submissions.
Among the final report’s recommendations are:
A full review of the resourcing needs of the judicial system;
At least $390 million government investment annually in legal assistance services to address critical gaps, and ensuring future funding through an evidence-based, sustainable and stable funding model;
And dedicated chapters on each of the 13 groups identified in its terms of reference as facing significant economic and social disadvantage, including Indigenous Australians, people with disabilities, and elderly people.
The report’s acknowledgements thank Dr Curran for her advice and specifically “for her ongoing dedication and expertise on access to justice issues.”
Dr Curran’s advice drew on her decades of empirical research about what works well within the legal system, and how it can be improved, so that more people have better access to justice.
She also cited her work as a practitioner with groups facing significant economic and social disadvantage including Aboriginal Australians and people from various culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.