University of Tasmania
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Self-represented litigants : the impact of the Family law duty lawyer scheme in Tasmania

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:16 authored by Mussared, K
A growing body of research has investigated the impact of self-representation on everyone involved in the family court system. The Family Law Duty Lawyer Scheme (the 'Scheme') was introduced in 2005 as one early intervention measure to minimise the adverse effects of self-representation. The Scheme was intended to enhance access to justice for self-represented litigants ('SRLs') and improve the efficient operation of the Family Courts. The effectiveness of the Scheme has not been investigated. The objective of this research is to provide an understanding of how the Scheme operates in Tasmania, what benefit it provides, and whether it reduces the impact of self-representation by examining the Scheme in a practical setting. It takes an action research approach. The researcher is in the unique position of working as the family law duty lawyer with the Legal Aid Commission of Tasmania ('LACT') in Hobart. She has collaborative arrangements with the small and cohesive legal profession in Tasmania, many of whom participated in the empirical study that was part of this investigation to provide their views and experiences of SRLs in the family law system. The study used both qualitative and quantitative methods involving interviews with judges and duty lawyers and surveys of SRLs, court staff and family law practitioners in Tasmania. It was anticipated that the research would result in changes being made to the delivery of the duty lawyer service by the researcher, in her role as duty lawyer. The results of the surveys and interviews revealed a widespread acknowledgement of the benefits to the family law system when the duty lawyer assists SRLs before they file proceedings; that there is a need to raise awareness of the Scheme and provide information about what the duty lawyer can and cannot do; and that the duty lawyer service is highly valued and appreciated to the extent that there is a demand for duty lawyers to be available for more time outside the court lists, offering a wider range of services to SRLs. This thesis develops a best practice model for Tasmania, and recommends reforms to the Scheme to increase and enhance duty lawyer services. The recommended initiatives may be applied in other jurisdictions wishing to adopt a model offering a duty lawyer service. The Scheme can evolve to be a more extensive and useful service by improving and expanding access to justice for SRLs.


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Copyright 2017 the author

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