Better legal responses to disasters

Based on our experiences responding to Australian bushfires and COVID-19, we’re calling for more support for strategic and coordinated legal responses to disasters.

 

Disasters and crises cause legal problems and increase vulnerability.  We need scaled-up, digitally enabled and coordinated legal sector responses to meet legal need.

Read our submission to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements:

Justice Connect Submission to Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements Download PDF (759 KB)

Our bush fire response

We opened our pro bono portal to law firms across Australia to provide rapid support to people affected by bushfires.

Read more

Our COVID-19 response

We’re building self-help resources for people affected by COVID-19, and helping lawyers easily respond to COVID-19 related matters.

Read more

Our seven recommendations to support better legal responses to disasters

In a year like no other, Australians have faced two compounding crises. First fires, and then a pandemic. Like disasters prior, these crises have driven increased levels of legal need across Australian communities.

1. Government coordination is critical to effective disaster responses

We strongly recommend that state and federal governments commit to delivering coordinated, consistent, and coherent responses to disasters that put the needs of people and organisations experiencing disasters, or working to address disasters, front and centre.

2. All jurisdictions need a legal assistance sector disaster response framework 

Every jurisdiction should have a pre-planned disaster response framework for the legal assistance sector. This framework should be as consistent and complementary across jurisdictions as possible, given the likelihood that disasters will cross state borders.

The framework should cover agreed approaches to:

  • communication with individuals and affected communities and outreach strategies (which may need
    to vary depending on the nature of the disaster)
  • division of responsibility for the legal response where clear (e.g. by demographic, issue area)
  • coordination of pro bono resources
  • requirements for regular review and updates to reflect the evolving service industry and the
    technology landscape
  • strategies for engagement and connection to non-legal service providers and disaster responders to ensure that legal needs are identified and appropriately directed to services

The framework must also be sufficiently flexible to support a local, on-the-ground response and/or a digital first response depending on the nature of the disaster and its impacts on service delivery.

3. Government funding must be quarantined for legal sector disaster response services and made quickly available when disasters occur

Government funding should be quarantined to support legal assistance sector responses to disaster.

The process for applying the quarantined funding in a disaster response setting should be clear and transparent. To the extent that an agreed disaster response framework is put in place, quarantined funding should appropriately align with the roles that organisations are committed to playing in disaster response. In particular, roles that do not fall neatly into the direct delivery of units of legal assistance but that are critical to an effective response should be explicitly provided for, including:

  • Work that raises public awareness of legal issues, preventative work and education and postdisaster
    outreach
  • Cross-sector coordination work and liaison with non-legal service providers (e.g. crisis response centres)
  • Coordinating and mobilising pro bono resources

4. ‘Disaster’ should be clearly defined so that frameworks and funding can be quickly applied

It is critical that more work is undertaken to define what constitutes a “disaster” to ensure that future issues experienced in Australia can, as far as possible, fall either clearly in or clearly out of disaster response frameworks. Any definition should be regularly reviewed and updated given the rapidly changing technological, environmental and geopolitical landscape.

5. Governments should support collaborative infrastructure across the legal assistance sector 

State and federal governments should acknowledge the extraordinary commitment of the legal profession to providing pro bono responses to disasters. Governments should also support sector-wide infrastructure proposed by Justice Connect that will support effective and efficient collaboration between the legal assistance sector and pro bono lawyers in a disaster response setting.

6. Governments should support the sector to speed up digital transformation to facilitate scaled-up disaster responses and resilient services

We urge state and federal governments to support all areas of public legal services, including community legal centres, legal aid commissions, and courts and tribunals, to undertake digital transformation work. A digitally transformed sector will be better positioned to respond to disasters at scale, and will be better
positioned to provide continuity of services during and post-disaster.

7. More legal support is required for not-for-profits to deliver more effective disaster preparedness planning and responses to disasters

Legal help for not-for-profits and volunteer-involving groups should be regarded as a vital component of the disaster response service ecosystem at a national level. There is a need for stronger government promotion, funding and endorsement of professional (including legal) support services that have the expertise to assist the community sector with disaster preparedness and recovery on a pro bono basis.