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Ensuring access to justice for all

We live in a digital world and it is virtually impossible to go about our daily lives effectively without the use of some form of technology.

It is hard to believe that there is still one system, which is central to our society, that is yet to fully realise the benefits of ‘going digital’.  The primary role of courts is to provide access to justice, settle disputes, and uphold the rights of our citizens and good government. Yet they have not been given sufficient technological resources to function properly and efficiently in the modern world.

This issue forms part of the QLS Call to Parties Statement for the 2020 State election, which advocates for Queensland to improve its delivery of justice so as to recognise the needs of the diverse Queensland population, as well as the needs of individuals and businesses through the use of technology and funding for appropriate support services, which will ultimately lead to better outcomes.

Andrew Shute, head of Litigation & Dispute Resolution and Partner at Carter Newell Lawyers and Chair of the QLS Litigation Rules Committee, believes the issue is two-fold with impacts not only on lawyers and their clients, but also the judiciary.

“Most lawyers work electronically, but for the courts, we need to convert this material into paper and have someone walk up to court to file it,” Andrew said.

“This leads not only to wasted costs but inefficiencies, including in terms of double handling. Clients are paying for this, in addition to potentially impacting on the time it takes for their matter to be heard and determined.”

“Our judiciary has a large workload and if it doesn’t have the systems in place to handle its work efficiently, there can be significant impacts on access to justice, including delays in delivering judgments.”

“Courts need a case management system that will help judges better manage their workloads by working electronically.”

According to Andrew, a significant issue in Queensland is the lack of electronic filing and integration with a case management system. Queensland is lagging the rest of Australia in not having electronic filing across its jurisdictions.

Electronic filing removes the current need to print electronic files and provide them to the court for use in a paper-based filing system, and instead allows the parties and the Courts to benefit from the ease and immediacy of a digital pathway – reducing time and costs for all involved.

Such a system, combined with giving courts across the state the ability to conduct hearings electronically, would go a long way to ensuring that access to justice is delivered efficiently and cost effectively for all Queenslanders.

“COVID-19 created immediate change in the court system and in the way we work, where we all saw the benefits of video for callovers and uncontested court review hearings, and of being able to prepare, deliver and work with court documents electronically,” Andrew said.

“Maintaining the ability for video hearings for these types of matters can provide more flexibility and efficiency as no longer does a solicitor or client need to physically attend court and essentially, wait around, for their time in court.”

Further, Andrew says that although Queensland courts have developed a simple and cost effective electronic trial platform that could be the envy of many other jurisdictions, its use has been relatively confined.

“Unfortunately, this is a function of the courts not being provided with sufficient technology to enable the judges, as distinct from the parties, to be able to use this platform effectively. There is also limited availability of this technology in the regions.”

“It is so important for courts to be properly resourced so they can manage their systems and processes electronically. That’s what most businesses have been doing for years. The inability of the courts to do so at this stage of the 21st century is a concern.”

“Under the present practices, not only are there additional costs for solicitors and clients, but it puts additional pressure on the judiciary to deliver judgments in a timely manner using what is an antiquated system.”

In the run up to the state election, Queensland Law Society has called on all political parties to respond to Better Resourcing for the justice system in Queensland – court resources and dispute resolution in their Call to Parties statement.  QLS are calling on a commitment from the next state government to improve physical and technological court infrastructure and to ensure access to courts is delivered through electronic means.

QLS is seeking a response from all political parties on this and several other issues. Members are invited to read the Call to Parties statement here.

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