ACCESS TO LAW
Access to justice and law is a fundamental right, and a basic principle of the rule of law, which underpins the legal system in Australia. Adequate access to justice includes: the ability to attain correct information about the law as well as understand how this information applies within legal proceedings. Unfortunately, prisoners are often unable to exercise these rights, as they are commonly isolated from resources and support.
The right to a fair trial and procedural fairness
The right to a fair trial is a central pillar of the criminal justice system that prevents innocent people from being convicted. In order for there to be a fair trial there are multiple criteria, outlined article 14 of the convention. This includes that the individual should:
1. Have adequate time, facilities and resources to prepare themselves for court
2. Tried without undue delay
3. Have access to a fair and proper hearing
4. Having the right to defend him or herself
See more on procedural fairness here:
The ability to gain access to justice for inmates ranges from a number of issues and appears in various stages of the legal process. It may cover everything from appearing in court or obtaining representation but also the events leading up to this. Getting access to a library, advice, obtaining the right form or access to legal information becomes significantly harder when you are in prison and there are a number of problems surrounding inmates ability to address their legal needs. A report that covers these specific barriers can be accessed here.
A comprehensive overview of how to access information, self-presentation and obtaining legal assistance can be found here:
Key issue is to access the right information and resources. This includes access to court transcripts, computers in cells, legal resources and representations. There have been reported cases that highlight the difficulties and restrictions in accessing information. Information equals power and is a crucial tool that ensures a right to fair trial.
Self-representation is when a person who is involved in legal proceedings represents himself or herself for the period of the proceeding. During legal proceedings, self-represented litigants are responsible for conducting legal proceedings, including speaking for themselves during hearings, gathering and presenting evidence to the court. Many people choose to represent themselves due to the inability to afford legal services, ineligibility to access legal assistance or by choice. Main issues of self-representation is that the lack of the legal advice and assistance during proceedings which would become a significant barrier to accessing justice.
Obtaining legal assistance
Obtaining legal assistance has many barriers such as the high cost of legal services and the inadequate funding for legal aid service providers. Those that are incarcerated have limited access to legal advice telephone lines and web based legal information within prisons.
Australia has four government funded legal providers to disadvantaged clients where the providers provide a range of services, including information, advice and casework. However, these providers have set out an eligibility test which assesses, means, matter and merit components.
Types of legal services
• Legal Aid Commission
• Community Legal Centres
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
• Family Violence Prevention Legal Services
• Louis Schetzer and Judith Henderson, Access to Justice and Legal Needs (Law and Justice Foundation, 2003).
• Productivity Commission, Access to Justice Arrangements (Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, No 72, 5 September 2014).
• Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, Access to Justice (Senate Committee Report, December 2009).
 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opened for 16 December 1966, 2200A (XXI) (entered into force 23 March 1976) art 14.