The ALRC conducts inquiries—also known as references—into areas of law at the request of the Attorney-General of Australia. Based on its research and consultations throughout an inquiry, the ALRC makes recommendations to government so that government can make informed decisions about law reform. ALRC recommendations do not automatically become law, however over 85 per cent of ALRC reports have been either substantially or partially implemented—making it one of the most effective and influential agents for legal reform in Australia.
The ALRC is part of the Attorney-General's portfolio, however it is independent of government and is able to undertake research, consultations and legal policy development, and to make recommendations to the Parliament, without fear or favour.
The ALRC's objective is to make recommendations for law reform that:
- bring the law into line with current conditions and needs
- remove defects in the law
- simplify the law
- adopt new or more effective methods for administering the law and dispensing justice, and
- provide improved access to justice.
When conducting an inquiry, the ALRC also monitors overseas legal systems to ensure Australia compares favourably with international best practice.
The ALRC aims to ensure that the proposals and recommendations it makes do not trespass unduly on personal rights and liberties of citizens, or make those rights and liberties unduly dependent on administrative, rather than judicial, decisions and, as far as practicable, are consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The ALRC must also have regard to any effect that its recommendations may have on the costs of access to, and dispensing of, justice.
The ALRC does not offer legal advice or handle complaints. It cannot intervene in individual cases and does not act as a 'watch-dog' for the legal system or the legal profession.
Contributions to external inquiries
The ALRC provides briefings to parliamentary committees, ministers, government departments, and other bodies to ensure that its reports and recommendations are well understood and taken into account in legal policy development, and that the experience and knowledge developed during references are shared for the benefit of the Australian community. The ALRC is guided by a protocol that outlines when it is appropriate for the ALRC to make an external submission. The considerations include:
- the consonance of issues raised in the review or inquiry being undertaken by the external body and issues covered in current reference work or past reference work of the ALRC;
- the consonance of issues raised in the review or inquiry being undertaken by the body and the expertise and knowledge of current Commissioners and staff members; and
- the availability of, and impact upon, ALRC resources.
Where appropriate, submissions are made available on the ALRC website.