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'Slow, expensive, complicated' legal system must be improved

Half of all Australians will experience a legal problem this year. Most won’t get legal assistance or come into contact with our courts or other legal institutions. In part, this is because Australia’s legal system is “too slow, expensive and hard to understand”.

This was a key finding of the Productivity Commission’s draft report of its inquiry into access to justice, released this week.

The 891-page report seeks feedback on a number of findings and recommendations to improve access to justice. But why are they needed? And are the recommendations practical?

Investing to address causes of crime, not the consequences

LAST week was a big week in Canberra. While much of the focus was on Julia Gillard's work for the Australian Workers' Union in the mid 1990s, the Parliament also considered laws for the national disability insurance scheme, education funding recommended by the Gonski review, pokie reform, the Murray-Darling basin plan, and recognising indigenous Australians in our Constitution.

But another important issue was considered by our politicians; one that may have far-reaching implications for our justice system and more broadly across the community, and one that received hardly any attention amidst the cacophony of the last sitting week of Parliament - the Senate began to consider a new policy of "justice reinvestment".

Sharp rise in youth homelessness shatters stereotypes

The number of Australians who were homeless on census night increased by 17% to 105,237 in the five years to August 2011. When adjusted for population growth, the increase the increase is still worryingly high, at around 8%. It’s clear we need a stronger commitment to address this significant social issue.

How doctors and lawyers can help vulnerable patients

By James Farrell, Deakin University and Peter Noble, The Conversation

Medical-legal partnerships have broken down the barriers to accessible legal services for people experiencing health issues in the United States. Such programs demonstrate the health benefits of effective legal advocacy on behalf of patients and Australia could learn from this model to improve access to justice and deliver better health outcomes.

An insider’s guide: Studying with Coursera

The disruptive influence of massive online open courses, or ‘MOOCs’, has been well documented on The Conversation and elsewhere. The arrival of major players, edX, Udacity and Coursera create opportunities and challenges for Australian educational institutions.

Practical Lessons, Fair Consequences

The Victorian Department of Justice recently released a discussion paper calling for community input into the design and implementation of diversion programs for young people engaged in the criminal justice system.

Unlike many jurisdictions in Australia, Victoria has not adopted a legislative, court-based diversion scheme for addressing crime committed by children and young people. The state has also seen limited investment in diversionary programs and an overreliance on discretionary police cautions. For young people in rural and regional areas, access to diversion programs and support services is especially limited.

Definition of homelessness changes but problems remain

According to the best estimates at the time, almost 105,000 Australians were homeless on census night in August 2006. This promoted then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to make the ambitious commitment to accommodate all people sleeping rough and halving the number of homeless in Australia by 2020.

Community legal centres: revolutionaries, or going around in circles?

Once again, activist lawyers from across Australia are coming together at the National Conference of Community Legal Centres (#naclc12). It’s a terrific opportunity to reflect on the work of Community Legal Centres (CLCs), and to identify challenges and opportunities.

We cannot become complacent on children's rights

 As Australians, our home is known as the 'lucky country'. We learnt recently that five of Australia's cities are among the most liveable in the world. Geelong Advertiser readers will know that it’s only a matter of time until Geelong finds its way onto that list.

But not everyone in the world is so lucky.

A vision for Australia: social, cultural and economic inclusion

In my Australia, all people will have opportunities to access full social, cultural and economic inclusion.

I have had the privilege of working with community organisations that work to encourage people to assert their rights, build their capacity and confidence, and feel that they can contribute to their communities.

Particularly in leadership roles with the PILCH Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic and Victoria’s specialist homelessness services’ peak, the Council to Homeless Persons, I have seen the potential for marginalised people to improve outcomes for themselves, their families and the broader community.

I continue to be inspired by the resilience, innovation and commitment of many of the people experiencing homelessness that have worked with me in these organisations.

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