Court Fees Deter Average Australians from Seeking Litigation

Australian citizens often do not appreciate having access to a fair legal system. Being able to have a hearing is something that should be available to everyone. However, the costs associated with legal trials is often a deterrent to people who do not earn high incomes. Steep increases in litigation costs are one factor that is making it harder for “average” Australians to seek their own justice. And then there are the alternatives for dispute resolution, which seemingly work to encourage people to forgo litigation.

A problem arises because there is a risk that people who have enough money, including government bodies and large corporations, have access to litigation. If they cannot use mediation to get what they want, this is a viable option for these groups. On the other hand, people without the monetary means are left accepting alternative dispute resolution (ADR) decisions. Even when your average person wants to pursue a matter with litigation, they often just do not have the money to do so.

It does save a lot of time and money, when people are encouraged to seek mediation to solve their disputes. It can also save people the hassle of entering a courtroom, and dealing with a full-blown trial. Using the high costs as a way to drive people toward ADR could be creating a two-class system in regards to the law. Read more on Alternative dispute resolution

Ready access to the legal system, and the justice that it is intended to bring, is a basic human right in any free, modern society. As far as universal regulations about human rights are concerned, “justice” means being able to have a public hearing, which is fair for all parties. It also means being able to be heard by a competent, impartial legal tribunal. That is what the courts are, but people are being diverted to other means for settling their grievances.

The change from traditional court hearings, for the average person, to other methods of mediation for justice, came in with an increase in costs for court trials. In fact, it put litigation out of reach for much of the Australian population. These types of trials typically involve matters of family law, privacy, human rights, consumer law, and copyright. Such important areas seem to be becoming increasingly expensive.

The cost of Federal Court proceedings increased in 2012 to $938, and then again in 2013 to $1080. Having a matter set up for a hearing went up from $1875 to $2155. While there are waivers and some reductions for people on low incomes, this does not cover an overly broad range of the working population. In addition, fees for corporations were also increased by 40 percent in 2013. It was estimated that the Australian Government would be able to generate over $76 million from these increasing.

The price increases also cover every type of litigation matter, whether or not there is actually an ADR available for a specific type of dispute. Even so, alternative means of seeking justice might not necessarily be considered “access to justice”.


The Costs of Corporate Litigation in Australia: A Research Note