National alliance for regional justice

Rural, regional and remote Australia continues to experience widespread disadvantage in accessing justice system services, says Deakin's Richard Coverdale.

Richard Coverdale
Richard Coverdale

A national alliance to fight for improved access to the law and justice systems for regional Australians emerged as a key initiative from the inaugural National Rural Regional Law and Justice Conference hosted by Deakin University at Warrnambool last month.

The proposed alliance, with the working title National Rural Justice Alliance, will champion the cause of rural justice and seek talks with Minister for Regional Australia Simon Crean as a priority, according to conference convenor Richard Coverdale, a Geelong based Research Fellow.

“Rural, regional and remote Australia continues to experience widespread disadvantage in accessing justice system services and the proposed Alliance will act as an independent and informed voice working with governments at all levels, professional services and communities to ensure the issues are acknowledged and addressed,” Mr Coverdale said.

The conference was hosted by Deakin University’s School of Law and opened by The Honourable Chief Justice of the High Court Australia, Chief Justice Robert French and Deakin University Vice Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander, attracted more than 100 senior legal, academic and community sector leaders from around the nation.

Mr Coverdale said the conference highlighted a broad range of issues impacting on the equity of law and justice services to rural and regional communities.

“With predictions that 42 per cent of legal practitioners will no longer be practising within five years and clear evidence of a range of areas in which current justice system services are not effectively reaching rural Australia action is needed now to avert a looming crisis for regional areas,” he said.

“We believe there are ways the Australian government and community can do more to encourage legal practitioners to establish practices in regional Australia and to address other issues such as access to specialist courts in regional areas. A united voice through the proposed alliance will highlight these issues from a national perspective and seek action to address the matters.”

It was proposed that the alliance be based on a similar model to the Rural Health Alliance.

The conference discussed several options for improving access to law and justice systems for rural Australia, some of which included: 

  • More focused provision of support services to regional legal practitioners, including mentoring programs for early career lawyers and  targeted law graduate programs.,
  • Funding of research which in effect audits discrepancies in the provision of justice system services and program between regional and metropolitan Australia. 
  • Creating more flexibility in the provision of courts and court services to ensure they are responsive to regional variations
  • Establishing coalitions with other professional services in regional Australia.

The conference also resolved to seek a meeting with Minister for Regional Australia Simon Crean to discuss issues raised during the conference and to put in place mechanisms to assist in creating equity of access to services for rural, regional and remote Australians.

A draft mission statement will be prepared from the conference and it is expected an alliance, with representatives from all states and territories, will be operational by February.

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