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As well as protecting and empowering consumers, and improving legal practice and ethics, the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner has a third area of responsibility: to improve access to justice. It is the third pillar in our Corporate Plan 2022-24.
The question we asked ourselves in developing the Access to Justice Policy Statement is – how can we apply our knowledge, authority, and resources most skilfully to bridge the gap between those who can access legal help and those who cannot?
Our definition of access to justice is broader than a person’s ability to access the justice system – typically our Courts, tribunals, and dispute resolution services. It involves any actual or perceived barriers that can affect a person’s experience of the legal system, including cost, availability of services, racism, mental illness, low literacy, poverty, isolation, and violence. All these factors and more can impinge upon a person’s ability to seek legal help or remedy.
Many people may not realise the scope of the Board and Commissioner’s work, and our ability to positively influence access to justice outcomes. We are a significant contributor to access to justice in Victoria through the work that we do, and the work that we support others to do.
We have three clear roles in Access to Justice, namely as:
As regulator of the legal profession, we have a broad remit under the Uniform Law Application Act that on a day-to-day basis involves a range of activities that govern legal practice and support access to justice in Victoria.
Our regulatory work is fundamental to access to justice outcomes as it enables us to ensure, through our many activities, a well-regulated, ethical, and competent legal profession that provides a high standard of legal services.
The second way we contribute to access to justice is as a funder through the Public Purpose Fund. It funds a kaleidoscope of organisations, initiatives and activities in Victoria that together make our legal system better, fairer and stronger than it would otherwise be. This includes funding for such entities and initiatives as, the pro bono scheme at Justice Connect, Victoria Law Foundation’s Public Understanding of the Law Survey, Victoria Legal Aid’s work to help people experiencing disadvantage with legal problems and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s ability to hear cases on lawyers’ conduct and disputes about costs.
The Board is equally as proud of our grants scheme – which has operated for 16 years and has distributed more than $50 million to community and legal organisations to support access to justice projects for some of our most vulnerable people and communities.
As trustee of the Public Purpose Fund, the Board works closely with top tier financial advisors to ensure it manages the fund both ethically and responsibly. We are very much at the beginning of this journey, but we are now starting to think about the way we invest our money and how our investments can also influence access to justice.
We are proud to release our Access to Justice Policy Statement as it will continue to define our strategic and long-term plans for effective funding of access to justice initiatives in Victoria.
CEO and Commissioner