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Improving access to justice: New scheme for pro bono mediation

Courts at all levels across Australia report growing numbers of proceedings involving self-represented litigants (SRLs).

These proceedings pose particular issues – the SRL is at a disadvantage in presenting their case, the other parties to the proceeding are at a disadvantage in responding to that case, and the court can face additional challenges in ensuring the claims proceed to determination as quickly and efficiently as possible, while protecting the parties’ rights to a fair trial.

There is a clear advantage to parties to such claims having the opportunity to engage in a process of alternative dispute resolution, in the period leading to trial. Mediation, in particular, allows meaningful discussion which frequently results in the resolution of claims. Where a dispute cannot be fully resolved, the parties may be successful in narrowing the matters in issue at mediation, so the trial is capable of being heard as quickly and efficiently as possible, thereby reducing the associated cost and delay.

Historically, cost has proved to be an obstacle to the conduct of mediations in claims involving SRLs. With a view to surmounting this obstacle, the Supreme Court, with the assistance of Queensland Law Society’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee and LawRight, has introduced a scheme for pro bono mediation of these claims. The Chief Justice has issued Practice Direction 17 of 2022 explaining the new scheme.

In accordance with the practice direction, the mediator is appointed by the court and the services of the mediator (and the venue for the mediation) are provided at no cost to the parties. Mediators are appointed from a panel provided by the Queensland Law Society of nationally accredited mediators under the Australian standards (NMAS).

As part of the process, LawRight will endeavour to obtain an advocate (solicitor or barrister) to act, without charge, on behalf of the SRL at the mediation. One of the first of its kind in Australia, the scheme would not be possible without the generous and valuable assistance of Queensland solicitors and barristers willing to act on a pro bono basis to assist vulnerable members of the community.

The scheme joins a phalanx of innovations introduced by Queensland Courts to facilitate dispute resolution, including court supervised mediations in the Land Court and the Planning and Environment Court. Initially, the scheme will be trialled in the Brisbane district, with a view to expand to regional areas over time.

Queensland Law Society’s annual Access to Justice Survey is your opportunity to identify barriers and propose ideas on how Queenslanders can have better access to justice. Have your say and start the survey.

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