The topic for this month’s Bulletin is “Technology: Challenges and Opportunities”.
Whilst improvements in technology can assist in dealing with a tyranny of distance and allow us to undertake tasks more efficiently, there is inevitably a cost associated with the implementation of technological advances.
The Society has just completed its State Budget Submission. Regrettably, it identifies a continuing failure on the part of Government to adequately resource the courts and the justice system in this State.
To borrow a phrase from David Edwardson QC, the priority appears to be “justice on the cheap” and without regard to the adequacy or otherwise of the justice system.
In my article in The Advertiser on 14 March 2017 I explained why we should already be in a new courts complex. If $2.3 billion was the Government’s budget for construction projects then it should have been enough to build both an excellent nRAH and a courts complex building.
The Legal Services Commission, already underfunded, was dealt a blow of a budget cut of $10 million over four years with $6 million of that being a reduction in State funding. At the very least, that $6 million should be immediately restored.
The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement will experience a cut of $300,000 in federal funding from 1 July 2017. It currently receives no funding from the State Government.
We know that members of the Aboriginal community feature disproportionately in appearances before our criminal courts. They account for almost half of the appearances in the Youth Court. The Government announced in August last year it would reduce recidivism by 10% but it has invested not one dollar in the representation of our Aboriginal youth before the courts and their rehabilitation.
South Australian Community Legal Centres perform an essential function. There are many in our community who cannot afford legal representation, do not qualify for legal aid and seek assistance through our CLCs. The Federal Government has announced a funding cut of some 28.9% which will come into effect on 1 July 2017. Currently, in South Australia, the Federal Government provides 80.5% of the funding. The State Government provides only 19.5%. All other States except Tasmania contribute between 42% and 60% of the total funding for CLCs. The State Government must accept a greater responsibility and contribute more. The Society estimates that an increase to 40% would mean a relatively modest further contribution of about $1.85 million in the 2017-18 financial year.
In April 2013 the Courts Administration Authority, only because of budgetary restraints, reduced the number of District Court Judges from 22 to 20. Despite the chronic and extraordinarily delays that have persisted since that time there has been no increase.
Funding generally for the Courts Administration Authority (CAA) remains an ongoing and serious issue.
We are tired of the standoff between the CAA and the Government over funding. The CAA asserts that it has had to close courts, reduce the number of Judges and, more recently, sought to introduce tiered lodgement fees and security fees in the Magistrates Court to address funding concerns. The Government asserts that it provides an overall lump sum to the CAA annually which it considers to be sufficient for the CAA to provide an adequate service.
On behalf of the Society I have called for an independent authority to be created to determine a formula to decide the amount appropriate to be provided by the Government to the CAA for it to provide an adequate service.
The Society has opposed, strongly, the suggested imposition of tiered lodgement fees in the Magistrates Court. It is concerned that it would impede access to justice with plaintiffs not able to afford the filing fee, and practitioners no longer able to absorb the cost, potentially not pursuing meritorious claims.
Importantly, if this is to be introduced, the money received will go to general revenue and not directly to the Courts Administration Authority.
Members will be aware that tiered probate fees were recently introduced in the Supreme Court. The Society understands that, as a result, the Probate Registry operates at a substantial profit. However, those fees go to general revenue and we are still left with a much understaffed and under-resourced registry operating from substandard accommodation. Ongoing delays are experienced in receiving grants of probate and the South Australian service pales compared to that offered interstate.
In recent articles in The Advertiser I have expressed concern in relation to the inadequacy of funding of our corrections system. I could devote a whole article to this alone. Overcrowding in our prisons, deficiencies associated with the application of bail principles, an appalling lack of services to those who are mentally unwell and the lack of rehabilitation services are just part of the failings in this area.
Like court filing fees, the motorist has been facing increasing registration premiums for what must challenge for the worst insurance policy on the planet.
Unfortunately, the announcement of more than 500 million dollars to address our power woes will serve to only increase pressures on the budget. That makes it even more important to argue strongly for the allocation of adequate funds to the administration of justice.
Tony Rossi, President - Law Society of South Australia