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Access to justice background paper  ( 2003 )  Cite this report


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Terms of Reference

Project aim

To identify the particular legal and access to justice needs of economically and socially disadvantaged people in New South Wales.


To achieve the Aim the project is to examine the ability of disadvantaged people to:

  • obtain legal assistance (including legal information, basic legal advice, initial legal assistance and legal representation)
  • participate effectively in the legal system (including access to courts, tribunals, and formal Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms)
  • obtain assistance from non-legal advocacy and support (including non-legal early intervention and preventative mechanisms, non-legal forms of redress, and community based justice)
  • participate effectively in law reform processes.

This will involve both qualitative and quantitative investigations into
  • legal problems encountered by disadvantaged people
  • services and processes to deal with these problems
  • the barriers that obstruct access
  • useful services and processes not provided by the legal system

Project outline

The project will be carried out in three stages.

Stage 1

This stage will focus on obtaining an overall picture of the legal and access to justice needs of the community, and will lay the groundwork for the research projects that follow. The main aims for the first stage are

  • to identify those features of economic and social disadvantage which result in inequitable access to law and justice
  • to identify the principal barriers which obstruct access to justice
  • to identify the range of legal issues, problems and complaints which are handled by organisations involved in service delivery to the public.

Stage 1 will include
  • an in-depth literature review of existing studies on access to justice and legal needs
  • an extensive consultation process, including inviting submissions from interested agencies and individuals
  • a review of data collected from various legal assistance and complaint handling organisations and agencies.

Stage 2

Stage 2 will involve quantitative and qualitative research into particular disadvantaged groups within the NSW.

The quantitative research will centre around legal needs assessment surveys in a number of disadvantaged localities across NSW. Up to six localities will be selected, on the basis of the Australian Bureau of Statistics indices for disadvantage.The regions selected will also reflect a sample of inner urban, outer regional, rural and remote communities.

The Foundation will also undertake a series of in-depth studies of the particular legal needs of specific disadvantaged groups. These will involve a combination of literature reviews, analysis of submissions received during the first stage, and focus groups and consultations with individuals and service providers.

Stage 3

The third stage, undertaking a statewide general population survey of legal needs, will depend upon the results of a feasibility study assessing the usefulness and resource implications of carrying out such a survey.

Output and outcomes

  1. A statement on the particular legal and access to justice needs of socially and economically disadvantaged people.
  2. A database/online information resource of literature and studies on access to justice and legal needs for disadvantaged people.
  3. Interim and subordinate reports detailing the legal and access to justice needs of different groups of disadvantaged people.
  4. Reliable community needs assessment models/packages to assist in assessing the legal needs of disadvantaged communities.
  5. Stage 1
    • Literature Review (to continue throughout the project)
    • Consultations
    • Analysis of submissions
    • Review of other data sources

    Stage 2

    Specific disadvantaged and local needs assessment

    Stage 3

    Possible general poulation legal needs assessment (if required)

    Stage 4
    Final outcomes
    • Statement of particular access to justice and legal needs of socially and economically disadvantaged people
    • Continuing Access to Justice/Legal Needs online onformation resource
    • Interim and final reports & recommendations for ongoing anaysis
    • Community needs assessment packages


Schetzer, L, Mullins, J & Buonamano, R 2003, Access to justice & legal needs, a project to identify legal needs, pathways and barriers for disadvantaged people in NSW. Background paper. Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney, 2002, <>