Australian legal system gets $160m overhaul

AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister Paul Keating has announced a four-year A$160 million strategy to reform the country's legal system to “bring justice to the people, not people to lawyers”.

The scheme aims to provide families with the means to resolve disputes outside formal legal processes and A$54m will be allocated to expanding family services, including increased marriage and relationship courses and the expansion of the Family Court's counselling and mediation services.

Methods of dealing with family violence are also set to be improved.

To boost access to law, legal aid services will gain an additional A$24m in funding with an emphasis on family law and civil law matters. For those outside the legal aid scheme, arrangements for contingency fees, under which lawyers are paid only on a successful outcome, will be encouraged. Keating also announced the establishment of a National Women's Justice Strategy to address problems women face in gaining access to justice.

Another key objective is the reform of the legal profession, courts and tribunals to make them more accountable and accessible. Contingency fees will be allowed in federal matters other than family and criminal law and advertising by lawyers will be permitted. Development courses for judges will focus on gender and cross-cultural awareness issues.