Professor Dame Hazel Genn DBE QC (Hon), a world leading authority on access to justice, delivered the second Sir Zelman Cowen Centre Oration.
Delivered to an impressive audience of legal and public sector leaders on Wednesday 1 November, the oration explored a citizen-centred justice system and described the potential for further change in the sector as “breathtaking”.
Dame Hazel presented a solutions-focused outlook and built upon the inaugural oration by Professor Richard Susskind OBE on the ‘The Future of Courts and Legal Services, as well as topics explored at last year’s Law and Courts in an Online World conference. All of these events were delivered under the Courts & Tribunals Academy at the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre.
Early, affordable, informed legal advice
When considering what citizens want from the justice system, Dame Hazel concluded that the answer was:
“Early, affordable, informed advice, as well as dispute resolution that’s easy, cheap, quick (within reason), and authoritative.
The current pressures on the justice system to do more with less have only increased as legal aid has dwindled and the courts have filled with unrepresented parties seeking judicial determination of their disputes and claims.
In searching for long-term solutions to current justice system pressures, governments and judiciaries around the world are becoming enthusiasts for new technology.”
Dame Hazel explained that while technology is an important innovation and will improve access to justice, it will not solve all of the issues that its most enthusiastic proponents hope.
Dame Hazel emphasised the value of integrating services, noting that: “Vulnerable people don't seek legal help. We have to go to them.” For instance, University College London has established a student legal advice clinic, led by Dame Hazel which is integrated within a GP practice in Newham, London. The clinic enables GPs to refer patients to the collocated free legal service to seek advice on socio-legal issues that may be contributing to their poor health, such as housing, employment or welfare problems.
Dame Hazel’s prize winning research focuses on ordinary people’s experiences of the law, and the responsiveness of the justice system to the needs of citizens. Her work has had a major influence on policy-makers around the world.
Dame Hazel’s approach, outlined in her pioneering book, Paths to Justice: What People Do and Think about Going to Law has been replicated in 27 jurisdictions around the globe. Dame Hazel currently leads the University College London Faculty of Law’s Centre for Access to Justice.
The oration attracted attendees from across the legal sector, including judiciary, government, academia and private practitioners, as well as members of the public with an interest in access to justice. It was supported by Victoria Legal Aid, the Victorian Department of Justice & Regulation, and the Victoria Law Foundation.