NSW Legal Needs Survey: Fairfield, Justice issues paper 5 ( 2008 ) Cite this report
The legal events experienced among the Fairfield sub-sample related to a broad range of civil, criminal and family law issues. As with the overall sample, of the legal events reported by Fairfield respondents, the majority fell under the broad heading of civil law, although this was somewhat a function of the structure of the questionnaire. However, the Fairfield participants reported civil matters at a significantly lower rate than the overall sample and had the lowest proportion of participants reporting this type of legal events of the six LGAs surveyed. Similarly, criminal matters were reported at a significantly lower rate than the overall sample. The most commonly reported legal events for the Fairfield LGA were in the 'accident or injury' and 'general crime' legal events groups.
When respondents took some action about their legal problems, help from an adviser was sought for approximately half of the legal events reported, generally from only one source. Similar to other regions, Fairfield participants most often source their help through their own personal knowledge and personal networks. However, when compared with all participants, Fairfield participants were even more likely to use an adviser who was referred by a friend or a relative. In the majority of cases, help was sought from non-legal advisers such as friends, relatives or non-legal professionals. Thus, unsurprisingly, for a large proportion it was non-legal advice that was received. Among the Fairfield respondents who took no action for their legal problems, the most important reason provided was 'seeking help would make no difference or make things worse'.
In general, the majority of Fairfield participants experienced no problems with getting assistance for their legal problems. Correspondingly, satisfaction was high with the sole or most useful adviser, with over 70 per cent of Fairfield participants satisfied with the help they received. However, this was a slightly lower satisfaction rate for legal advisers than found in other regions. Perhaps this was related to the finding that the proportion of participants reporting experiencing difficulties in getting assistance was slightly higher in this sub-sample than other regions. Although in the minority, a number of Fairfield residents participating in the current survey reported experiencing difficulty in getting through to an adviser on the telephone, the most common barrier to obtaining assistance for all regions. Being located in suburban Sydney, it appears that the majority of Fairfield participants had less distance to travel for their legal assistance than participants from non-metropolitan regions included in the survey — they reported travelling over 20 kilometres for assistance in only eight events.
The above findings and those from the overall report (Coumarelos et al. 2006) suggest a range of strategies may be required to promote justice through legal services. The substantial rates of people doing nothing for their legal problems, because of a view that seeking help would make no difference or make things worse, show the importance of enhancing the general knowledge about how legal processes could assist them to resolve issues. This could be achieved through proactive information and education to increase public awareness about their legal needs and the available pathways for legal resolution. The observation that people go to non-legal advisers when they have legal problems suggests there may be benefits in raising the general level of legal literacy among the community at large, to enable the use of non-legal professionals as effective gateways to available legal services (Coumarelos et al. 2006). Finally, difficulty getting through to an adviser on the telephone may indicate the need to improve the accessibility of legal services through more resources and extended availability of services. This may ensure that legal services can react quickly and effectively to resolve legal problems.