Assessing the impact of self-represented litigants on the Justice system in Australia and New Zealand
An Australian report published in October 2018 details the impact of self-represented litigants on the Australian and New Zealand Court and Tribunal systems.
The Australian Centre for Justice Innovation (ACJI)has released a report entitled, ‘the impacts of self-represented litigants on civil and administrative justice: Environmental scan of research, policy and practice’ giving a details overview of the leading practices and services aimed at self-represented litigants.
The report is 120 pages long so we’ve put together a shorter 5 page overview which pulls together some of the key and relevant findings.
The report, commissioned by the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration, follows a previous review on self-represented litigants in the Australian federal civil justice system, published by the ACJI in 2012.
The 2012 report highlighted common assumptions of self-represented litigants (SRL), including that most SRL:
- Come from a socially and/or economically disadvantaged group,
- Are given no choice but to self-represent due to the internationally declining legal aid budgets, and
- Have difficulty in navigating and understanding the procedural and legal requirements within their Court systems.
The current (2018) ACJI report expanded this analysis and collated data on how judges, lawyers and Court staff view interactions with SRLs. They found that these views were often negative, with SRLs being seen to cause difficulty within the legal process, take up judicial time and encouraging judges to provide them with legal advice.
The tension between judges keeping litigants in person to the same standards as trained lawyers, and judges trying to level the playing field by providing additional support to unrepresented parties is something that continues to be of concern in the UK. As we are aware, neither option allows for a fair hearing. The negative experience of the legal profession continues with many SRLs initally starting their legal process with legal representation but soon have stop this due to limited funding or dissatisfaction with lawyers.
The report also highlights the high levels of anxiety and stress experiences by SRLs, especially when commencing proceedings and having to direct the Court.
Some policy and programme initiatives have been adopted in an attempt to tackle these issues. The report highlights, for example, the Canadian approach to addressing the negative
perception around SRLs by providing further education to judges, lawyers and Court staff about the realities of self represents and their experience.
In Australia, the Supreme Court of Victoria has created a range of self-help videos, handbooks and visual aids to be easily accessed online by SRLs. They have also ensured all legal terminology on their online platform is defined and have even employed SRL co-ordinators to help ease and provide advice on the self-representation process.
Towards the end of the report, an environmental analysis is conducted on the various international online resources that can be utilised by professionals working with SRLs or by SRLs
themselves. We were very excited to the LIP Network cited as an example of a good resource.
The report also mentions Litigant in Person Strategy partners AdviceNow and RCJ Advice, both of whom provide extremely useful online resources for those going to or thinking about going to court without a lawyer. The report praises thier practical advice, information leaflets on alternatives to court and the first steps on how best to represent yourself without a lawyer. All of their information is easy to access, read and understand.