Club-sandwich class shut out: Chief Justice

A big section of the community has been described by the State's top judge as a "club-sandwich class" who face profound and significant problems in accessing justice in civil cases.

WA Chief Justice Wayne Martin has also suggested a website similar to TripAdvisor could be set up to provide information to those who need access to the legal profession and do not have the required knowledge and experience in relation to fees and the nature of services provided by law firms.

Delivering the inaugural lecture in an eminent speakers' series at Notre Dame University, Justice Martin said cost, delay and complexity were the "triumvirate of evil" facing the longstanding problem of access to justice.

"It is clear that the problems of access to justice are the greatest in the civil side of the court's work and they are profound and significant," Justice Martin said at the series two weeks ago.

"If you are very poor, you have some chance of obtaining legal aid and accessing the system by that means. If you are very rich, you can afford your own legal representation.

"That has resulted in a large group in the middle, neither very poor nor very rich, being described as the sandwich class; that is the group in the middle that cannot access the system.

"I do not think that analogy is quite accurate unless you call it the 'club-sandwich class' because the group in the middle is a very large proportion of the community.

"The sad reality is that the cost of civil justice puts it out of reach of the overwhelming majority of ordinary Australians."

Justice Martin noted family, employment, migration, personal injury, consumer, welfare and housing and tenancy as areas of law where there were gaps.

He said while most lawyers were not making vast sums of money, the labour-intensive work, the adversarial nature of the system and the unpredictability of litigation drove prohibitive costs.

The Chief Justice suggested that alternatives to the traditional time billing, which also contributed significantly to lawyer burn-out, should be considered.

"TripAdvisor is a website we are all familiar with," he said.

"You can see what other people say about a hotel or restaurant you might be considering. Why do we not have the same for law firms?"

The West Australian

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