A recent article in the Queensland Courier Mail cited Chief Justice Paul de Jersey as saying that while the number of self-represented litigants (SRLs) in the Australian state of Queensland is down from previous years, they still continue to be a burden on both the civil and criminal court systems.
Queensland courts are experiencing problems similar to those here in the states when SRLs enter the courtroom: time-consuming case presentation and unnecessary costs.
Chief Justice de Jersey stated that the percentage of SRLs in civil matters was down from 42.1% in the previous year to 32%. This sharp decrease is partially attributable to the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House, Inc.’s Self-Representation Civil Law Service (SRCLS) which was established in 2007 to assist SRLs through the judicial process.
The SRCLS solicitors perform a myriad of services including: giving legal advice to SRLs, drafting documents (e.g., pleadings and affidavits), conducting legal research, and referring appropriate cases for further advice, support, or representation.
SRCLS solicitors also assist SRLs with ancillary litigation-related issues including: understanding the process and procedures, observing courtroom rules and decorum and presenting their cases in the best possible light.
SRCLS will help any SRL, regardless of their means; however, the degree of assistance depends upon an SRL’s income and the extent to which the SRL can afford representation.
Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House, Inc. also provides a similar service to SRLs in the Court of Appeals.
While efforts exist to introduce qualified immunity for court staff when assisting SRLs and an indemnity policy, these have yet to come to fruition.
Despite the need for qualified immunity and an indemnity policy, the SRCLS is a great first step. The numbers seem to indicate that the program does help in furnishing an effective way of handling SRLs’ cases.
While I have yet to come across any programs quite as extensive as this one in the United States, many states have implemented self-help kiosks in their courthouses that provide information and some limited assistance to SRLs. While these are surely helpful, compared to the SRCLS, they do leave something to be desired.
The SRCLS appears to be a more comprehensive compromise between providing actual legal representation and not providing any assistance at all. While SRLs clearly have more work and resonsibilities to take on when representing themselves, they are at least provided with the tools and directions they need to present their cases in a more advantageous manner.