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Access to justice – Who needs lawyers?

I would firstly say that I’ve stolen the title “Access to Justice – Who Needs Lawyers?” from the Chief High Court Judge Justice, Helen Winkleman, in New Zealand. It is sobering that the problems facing our Family Courts are echoed throughout the world. Ever decreasing fiscal budgets have had every jurisdiction struggling with the appropriate boundaries for the state role. In this Country, it has led to reforms which include people being forced into mediation before Court action is taken (the irony in my view being that the cornerstone of mediation is voluntary attendance). Throughout the world, governments are struggling with the advancement of technology, as well as the reality that individuals can now achieve a lot by themselves on relationship breakdown. This presents the question, ‘Who needs lawyers?’

The High Court Judge quoted in the title has done well to capture the essence of the argument as to why access to justice is so important in the civil courts. She states, “because access to justice is the critical underpinning of the rule of law in our society; the notion that all – the good, the bad, the weak, the powerful – exist under, and are bound by the law. That condition cannot exist without access to the Court.”

This is particularly pertinent when dealing with the breakdown of a relationship and looking for equitable solutions or answers, as people rarely enter the forum on an equal footing. Breakups/downs are messy.

Access to the family Court is becoming an ever more fanciable concept. Recently the Chief of the Family Court Munby suggested that District Judges should look to conduct hearings by skype. This followed the closure of 86 County Courts.

All family lawyers know that the system is straining almost to breaking point. But, as professionals also know, there are options available (albeit outside the court system) through dispute resolution solutions, such as collaborative law or arbitration. But what of those poor souls who google their way through a settlement? Simplifying the law or processes to improve access does equate to justice. However, dumbing down the rule of law to save administrative costs undermines the protection statute that has been built-in for families. We need to be careful in the search for balance. We cannot lose sight of the jurisprudence, which underpins our system of law.

Loraine has over 20 years experience in family law and has always specialised in this area. In recent years Loraine has spent the majority of her time acting for clients in relation to financial matters following relationship breakdowns, particularly more complex cases involving trust company assets or pensions. She also deals with complex children matters such as removal from jurisdiction, protracted and difficult child arrangement orders.

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