Wednesday, March 15, 2017 10:00am
This article by Tony Rossi was published on the Law Society of South Australia website and in Points Of Law in the Adelaide Advertiser on the 13th March, 2017
The Premier has announced a State-based fix of our power woes at an estimated cost of $550 million. This follows $1.8 billion for a desalination plant yet to be used and $2.3 billion for a hospital yet to be used.
These are huge sums of money but the true cost to the community of such expenditure goes beyond dollars. Access to justice has been seriously eroded. Fundamental legal rights are being taken away by the Government. At the heart of these changes appear to be financial considerations.
Injury claims from motor vehicle accidents have been savaged following changes in July 2013. In the last financial year the average value of claims for motor accident injuries after 1 July 2013 dropped from around $160,000 to around $60,000. Injured people are receiving far less. Yet we have had no reduction in car registration fees. The Government made these changes to sell the highly profitable Motor Accident Commission for a desperately needed cash injection of $1.6 billion.
Announcing the new State-owned power plant and battery farm, both the Premier and Treasurer emphasised that private businesses exist to make profits, not to look after the consumer, deriding the then Liberal Government’s decision 18 years ago to privatise ETSA Utilities. Despite that light bulb moment the Government still proposes to sell the business of the Lands Titles Office which has been profitable and involves the security of the titles to the land our homes are built on. There are persistent suggestions the Government will also privatise our Workers Compensation scheme.
At the same time, court filing fees in the Magistrates Court are proposed to increase exponentially and new court fees are proposed to be introduced. These fees are collected by the courts but go straight into the Government’s coffers.
On the other hand, legal aid funding has been reduced when demand for it is increasing.
In criminal law the fundamental right to be judged by an independent and impartial judge is also being eroded. An ever increasing list of prescriptions curtails the judge’s duty to achieve justice according to the particular circumstances of the case. There can be no mathematical formula for sentencing. People are languishing in custody unnecessarily because of a lack of funding for simple things like a mental health examination.
During the 18th century the civil law evolved by reference to principles like owing a duty of care to people and properly compensating if there was a breach of such a duty. In criminal law fundamental rights were recognised to ensure a fair trial. Both have been under attack. Important in both areas was the confidence placed in judges via security of tenure and not influenced by the immediate pressure of an upcoming election. Now we have a trend of fixed term appointments or other unsecure terms. You cannot have justice on the cheap.
Whilst the Government’s recent announcement may keep your lights on, the ripple effects of the approach of Government may plunge us all into the legal dark ages.
Tony Rossi PRESIDENT