Advocating for Equal Access to Justice

February 8, 2022

Fair access to justice via the legal system is an issue our entire team at Circle Bridge Legal are passionate about.

Beyond the politically correct platitudes that often flow in this space, we’re confident that in our case it is as much informed by our personal experience as it is because it “sounds” right in an era that rightly prioritises corporate social responsibility.

Empowering the powerless is something I am deeply invested in because of what I’ve seen it enable others to achieve. To be able to give vulnerable people a voice and new opportunities is one of the greatest honours for those of us working in the legal sector. 

We like to believe that in a country like ours, everyone is equal before the law and that the law has the ability to bring everyone to account regardless of their status.

But the truth is that — even putting politics and matters such as race aside — sometimes the sheer financial burdens the sector places on people means they literally cannot access legal services.

This means that some people in the community are far more vulnerable than most. 

One example that I’ve come across in our work is the case of a mother who’s just escaped a family violence situation.

Provided she has the financial or mental resources (which most people escaping this type of situation often don’t) to find a helpline or legal service, the advice she would receive to help herself wouldn’t be enough to give her the best solutions to her legal problems. 

In turn, this woman — still traumatised by family violence — would then have to navigate through multiple courts systems just to manage the situation of not only herself, but also her other affected family members (possibly including children).

This includes the Family Court to make arrangements for children, the Local Court to seek an Apprehended Personal Violence Order, and perhaps the Children’s Court to sort out Care and Protection matters for her children, who, like her, have also been removed from the risk of the same family violence.

Even if the mother is able to find an advocate to share her burden and help her walk through all these systems and jurisdictions, not many advocates have the comprehensive legal understanding, background or skill lawyers have to help the mother find justice holistically.

Fundamentally, the legal system is complex, compartmentalised and the law can be very technical.

With all that’s at stake financially and personally, many individuals often do not have the personal resources to navigate the ins and outs of the legal system and to make sure they don’t end up on the losing end of a case.

Yet, all too often, it’s often individuals and families in the most traumatic and stressful situations who have the toughest journey in getting the legal aid they need most.

People with even higher stakes and risks are expected to navigate the legal system alone, all while they’re highly traumatised, likely in fear for their life, without any resources or financial help. 

Vulnerable people deserve more than just a voice, some quick legal advice and referrals to help them through their legal cases. From a social justice perspective, it is imperative that all individuals should have access to quality legal services, regardless of socio-economic circumstance. 

While it may never be equal to the legal services powerful corporations or wealthy individuals are able to access, it should at least be fair for everyone.

Which is why many in our team volunteer for our community, providing legal advice to disadvantaged individuals who do not have access to adequate legal services.

As former Law Council President Fiona McLeod SC previously noted, the pro bono work undertaken by lawyers is a unique aspect of our profession, and there is simply no other profession with such an established culture of helping those in need.

But the unmet need and funding shortfall to sustain this type of work is still enormous.

Law Access last year reported that “there is almost no funded legal assistance provided for representation with family law property settlements which has flow-on effects for housing security, employment and education. Nor is there legal assistance available for many applicants requiring legal advice and representation at judicial review of administrative decisions in the Federal Circuit Court.”

Community legal centres have also seen a continuing, large unmet need for legal services within seriously disadvantaged groups, even in centres which benefit from some funding. 

In the same way that you wouldn’t expect an allied health practitioner to take the place of a doctor in a hospital, we shouldn’t require and fund anything less than a qualified lawyer for vulnerable people in our courts and tribunals.

They deserve qualified, quality legal help from beginning to end, to appear for them in Court, to manage all the paperwork, to negotiate and advocate for them.

In the future, I hope we will one day be able to see a legal system which supports true advocacy for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community.

Until that happens, myself and teams like ours will be doing what we can do to help make the law fairer and accessible for everyone, regardless of their situation.

About Us

Circle Bridge Legal is a leading Western Sydney law firm at the heart of Australia’s next growth engine. Located in the hub of activity generated by Sydney’s upcoming second international airport [Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport], our ambitions are as grand as our region’s.

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