ContentJust Search pageLJF site navigationLeft navigation links
LJF Logo
Publications sectionJustice Awards sectionResearch sectionGrants sectionPlain language law sectionNetworks section
Just Search
 
Research Report: Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas
cover image

Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas  ( 2006 )  Cite this report

Ch 9. Discussion



Print chapter
Search or view whole report
View PDF

Incidence of legal events


The results of the present study suggest a high level of legal need across the six disadvantaged regions surveyed—legal events are a common feature of life, affecting many people and many aspects of life. Approximately two-thirds of participants (69%) reported experiencing one or more legal events in the previous 12 months. Furthermore, the legal events experienced related to a broad range of civil, criminal and family law issues. In particular, considerable proportions of participants reported general crime (27%),2 housing (23%), consumer (22%), government (20%), accident/injury (19%), wills/estates (15%), employment (12%), credit/debt (12%), family (9%) and education (7%) events.

The incidence of legal events reported in the present sample across six disadvantaged areas of NSW is considerably higher than those reported in recent overseas studies conducted in general population samples. In the United Kingdom, Genn (1999), Genn and Paterson (2001), and Pleasence et al. (2004b) reported incidence rates between 26 and 40 per cent over periods of between 3.5 and 5.5 years. In New Zealand, Maxwell et al. (1999) reported a yearly incidence rate of 41 per cent in their general population sample. However, as noted earlier, the lack of harmonisation in the methodologies used across different surveys of legal needs severely limits the ability to compare the findings from such surveys. Jurisdictional, population and measurement differences may have contributed to the different incidence rates. It is worth noting, however, that the higher incidence rate in the present study cannot be attributed to the different reference periods used for the recall of legal issues. The reference period of one year used in the present study was identical to that used by Maxwell et al. (1999) and shorter, not longer, than the reference periods used in the British studies.3

One possible measurement difference between the present study and the British studies that may have contributed to the higher incidence rate in the present study is the broader range of legal events covered by the present survey. The present study included criminal law events, which were not a focus of the British studies, and a larger number of events overall.4

A possible population difference that may have contributed to the higher incidence in the present study is the more disadvantaged nature of the present sample compared with the British and New Zealand samples. This argument is consistent with the evidence that socioeconomically disadvantaged people are particularly vulnerable to experiencing legal problems (e.g. Dale 2000; Pleasence et al. 2004b). It is also consistent with the tendency to find higher incidence rates in studies surveying disadvantaged populations. For example, the survey of temporary accommodation residents conducted in parallel to the LSRC general population survey in the United Kingdom reported an incidence rate of 84 per cent over 3.5 years (Pleasence et al. 2004b). Surveys in the United States focusing on lower income samples have reported yearly incidence rates ranging between 43 and about 87 per cent (ABA 1994; Schulman et al. 2003; Spangenberg Group 1989; Task Force 2003). In Australia, Cass and Sackville (1975) reported a five-year incidence rate of 69 per cent in their disadvantaged sample.5

The high incidence rates in the present survey of disadvantaged areas underline the importance of having appropriate services to resolve legal events in these areas. As other authors have noted (e.g. Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b), the broad nature and ubiquity of legal events suggest they should be of general concern—they are central to physical and social well-being. The findings from recent studies that legal events can have adverse effects on health and economic circumstances, can trigger further legal problems, and can reinforce and initiate social exclusion (Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b) further underline the importance of having quick, effective and inexpensive means of resolving legal problems. In particular, where there are evident high rates of legal need in areas such as those sampled in the present study, the importance of appropriate legal service provision cannot be underestimated.

Incidence of multiple legal events

Supporting recent studies (e.g. Genn 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b), the present study suggested that legal events are not experienced randomly across the population or in equal numbers across individuals. In the present study, approximately one-third of participants reported no legal events, another third reported one or two events, and the remaining third reported three or more events. The third of participants who reported at least three events accounted for the vast majority (79%) of events reported by the sample. Thus, a relatively small percentage of individuals disproportionately accounted for the majority of legal events. This finding suggests that some individuals are particularly vulnerable to legal problems and that legal services are likely to be disproportionately needed by these individuals. Parallel findings have been reported in other fields such as health and crime. For example, small proportions of families are over-represented among those who have medical and social problems and those who use health and welfare services (e.g. ABS 2003a; Vinson & Homel 1975). Similarly, relatively few criminal offenders account for a disproportionately large number of criminal offences, arrests and convictions (e.g. Coumarelos 1994; Farrington 1983; Wolfgang, Figlio & Sellin 1972).

The present study also found that certain types of legal events tend to recur. For example, of the people who experienced an employment event within the one-year period, about one-third experienced two or more different types of employment events. Other legal event groups that had a high rate of recurrence were the family, human rights, general crime, credit/debt, government, consumer and education legal event groups.

Similarly to the United Kingdom studies by Genn (1999) and Pleasence et al. (2004b), the present study also found that some event types tend to appear in clusters. It is worth noting that the present study showed overlaps in occurrence not only between issues within the same broad area of law (e.g. between different types of civil law issues), but also between various types of civil, criminal and family issues. The present study, like the United Kingdom studies, identified a family cluster dominated by family and domestic violence events (Pleasence et al. 2004b).6 A connection between domestic violence, relationship breakdown, and problems with contact or support arrangements for children is not at all surprising, and Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that where domestic violence was reported in combination with divorce or children-related problems, it tended to occur first.

Like the British studies, the present study also identified a broad, general cluster which included events related to consumer matters, housing, accident/injury, employment, neighbours and welfare benefits (e.g. Pleasence et al. 2004b).7 It is not surprising that the composition of the broad cluster was not totally identical across the three studies given that the legal events covered by the different studies were not identical.8 In the British studies, an economic grouping consisting of money and debt problems was an additional element of the broad cluster, whereas in the present study, a similar economic grouping formed a separate cluster. In addition to including credit/debt events, the economic cluster in the present study included business events, which were not a focus of the overseas studies. However, it is notable that in all three studies there was a strong link between consumer events, which contributed to the broad cluster in each case, and money or credit/debt problems.9

As Pleasence et al. (2004b) note, there are a number of reasons why certain legal problems tend to occur in clusters. Firstly, different problem types might have coinciding defining circumstances. For example, numerous consumer transactions provide the opportunity to experience consumer problems and credit/debt problems. Secondly, individuals might have coinciding characteristics of vulnerability for different problem types. The sociodemographic characteristics associated with vulnerability to legal events are discussed in the next section. Thirdly, the experience of one legal problem might trigger or increase the risk of experiencing additional problems. Pleasence et al. (2004b) argue that the trigger effect of justiciable problems can have a dramatic impact on people’s lives. For instance, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that relationship breakdown can lead to downward mobility in the housing market, a loss of income and adverse effects on children’s education, while Genn (1999) found that injury and ill-health can lead to unemployment, which in turn can lead to problems relating to welfare benefits, debt and compensation. Pleasence et al. maintain that


    vulnerability to justiciable problems is .... cumulative. Each time a person experiences a problem the likelihood of experiencing an additional problem increases; not just as a consequence of initial vulnerability, but also as a consequence of the increased vulnerability brought about by the impact of initial problems (p. 107).

The fact that legal events recur, occur in clusters and act as triggers for further problems suggests the critical role that could be played by quick and effective legal resolution in the prevention of flow-on effects. That is, appropriately targeted, efficient legal services would not only have an immediate role in resolving existing legal problems, but also a longer-term effect in preventing existing legal problems from escalating and in preventing new, related legal problems from occurring. Appropriate early, pre-court intervention not only has potential benefits for individuals who experience multiple or recurring legal problems, but also potential cost savings for government in avoiding expensive court resolution (e.g. MacDonald 2005).

The clustering of different types of legal events also suggests that legal services need to have the capacity for resolving the complex situations faced by some individuals involving multiple, concurrent, interconnected legal problems. The present study indicated that these co-occurring legal issues may be quite disparate and may impact on many aspects of people’s well-being, including their finances, employment, health, housing and welfare. Thus, the results suggest that, for some individuals, legal service provision needs to be sufficiently coordinated to deal with multiple, disparate legal issues. Furthermore, given the impact of legal needs on many areas of everyday life, there may also be benefits in coordinating the provision of legal services with the provision of other human services. The current level of coordination among legal and human services, and possible approaches for enhancing this coordination are discussed further in Chapter 10.

Sociodemographic factors related to the incidence of legal events

Consistent with past research, the present study suggests that people from particular sociodemographic groups have an increased likelihood of experiencing particular types of legal problems. There were some differences in the experience of legal events according to gender, age, Indigenous status, country of birth, disability status, personal income and education. In particular, age, disability and income were generally consistent predictors of the 10 most frequently reported types of legal events, that is, accident/injury, consumer, credit/debt, education, employment, government, housing, wills/estates, general crime and family events. These findings are discussed in further detail below. To assist with the discussion of the results from the regression analyses, Table 9.1 provides a quick reference summarising the significant predictors in each regression.

Table 9.1: Summary of significant predictors in the 15 regression models conducted

Outcome variable
Gender
Age
Indigenous status
Country of birth
Disability status
Personal income
Education level
Legal event group
Recency
Resolution status
Action taken
Method of resolution
1
Reporting legal events of any type
2
Reporting accident/injury events
3
Reporting consumer events
4
Reporting credit/debt events
5
Reporting education events
6
Reporting employment events
7
Reporting government events
8
Reporting housing events
9
Reporting wills/estates events
10
Reporting general crime events
11
Reporting family events
12
Action taken
13
Satisfaction with assistance
14
Resolution status
15
Satisfaction with outcome
Note: Each row represents a separate regression model. White cells indicate variables included in the regression, while shaded cells indicate variables not included. Ticks indicate significant predictors.

Gender

In keeping with much of the literature, the present results suggest that the likelihood of experiencing legal events does not reliably vary according to gender (e.g. Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999; NCC 1995; Pleasence et al. 2004b). In the present regression analyses, gender was not related to the overall reporting of legal events and was only related to one of the 10 most frequent types of legal event groups (see Table 9.1). Specifically, males reported higher rates of accident/injury events. Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that gender was only associated with three of their 18 problem types.

When gender differences are found, there is some convergence in terms of the types of legal events showing gender differences. Similarly to the present study, Fishwick (1992) reported higher rates of accident events for males. Fishwick (1992), the Task Force (2003) and Pleasence et al. (2004b) all reported higher rates of domestic violence or family problems for females.10

Age

In the present study, age was related to reporting events overall, and to reporting each of the 10 most frequent types of events examined (see Table 9.1). Supporting past research, the age groups with the highest incidence rates varied according to the type of legal event, suggesting that different stages of life tend to expose people to different types of legal problems (Dale 2000; Fishwick 1992; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Schulman et al. 2003).

Consistent with past research, older people (65 years or over) tended to report lower rates of legal events than other people. The only exception to this trend was that the oldest age group had the highest incidence of wills/estates events. It is not surprising that wills/estates issues may become more of a priority as people get older. The extent to which the lower reporting rates by older people truly reflect a lower incidence of legal need is unclear. Older people have been identified as a disadvantaged group who may have specialised legal and access to justice needs as a result of their particular life circumstances (Ellison, Schetzer, Mullins, Perry & Wong 2004). For example, older people tend to have relatively low income, and increased risk of health and disability problems (Ellison et al. 2004).

If older people actually experience fewer legal problems, then this may be because their life circumstances are less likely to expose them to legal problems, or because they are better able through past experience or familiarity to prevent issues from becoming serious legal problems (Pleasence et al. 2004b). However, it has been argued that the lower reporting rates by older people may also in part reflect a failure to identify legal needs or problems for a variety of possible reasons, such as a decrease in the importance placed on problems or an increased ignorance of personal circumstances due to increased isolation with old age (Pleasence et al. 2004b). A recent qualitative study of the legal needs of older people in NSW by Ellison et al. (2004) suggests that older people sometimes ignore their legal problems and demonstrate a reluctance to complain about their circumstances and legal problems. A number of studies have also found that many older people do not understand their legal rights or the available avenues for redressing their legal problems (Ellison et al. 2004; Tilse, Setterlund, Wilson & Herd 2002).

Given the ever increasing older population, the reason behind the lower reporting rates of legal issues by older people warrants future investigation. If the lower reporting rates do not actually reflect fewer legal problems, but an increased failure to identify legal problems, specialised information strategies for older people may be useful in helping them to recognise and deal effectively with legal problems (e.g. Ellison et al. 2004).

The three youngest age groups (15 to 24, 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 year olds) reported the highest incidence of legal events overall, with the peak occurring in the 25 to 34 year age group. This finding is consistent with prior research showing that the experience of legal problems tends to peak in the 20s, 30s or 40s (e.g. Genn 1999; LJF 2003; Pleasence et al. 2004b).

General crime and accident/injury events peaked in the youngest age group. These results are consistent with the high criminal offence rates, high crime victimisation rates and high rates of risk-taking behaviour for young adults, particularly for young men (e.g. ABS 2004a; Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies 2005; NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research 2004; Palamara & Stevenson 2003). Consumer and housing legal events were also common in the youngest age group. The high rates of these legal events are likely to partly reflect the fact that young people are relatively less economically independent and tend to live in poorer-standard accommodation. For example, national survey data show that relatively high percentages of Australians in this age group have personal incomes below the poverty line, experience financial stressors such as being unable to raise money quickly for something important, and live in rented accommodation (ABS 2004b; Lincare 2005; Schneider 1999).11

Credit/debt, government and housing events peaked in the 25 to 34 year age group, and rates of consumer, education and family events were also relatively high in this age group. Similarly, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found high rates of immigration, consumer, money/debt and domestic violence problems in this age group. The high rates of consumer, credit/debt and housing events probably echo, to some extent, the increasing personal expenditure and use of debt as people become economically independent and commence acquiring major assets such as houses (e.g. Pleasence et al. 2004b).12 In keeping with this argument, national Australian survey data show a substantial increase in household income for this age group compared with the 15 to 24 year age group (ABS 2005). National survey data also show relatively high rates of cash flow problems, dissaving actions13 and first home buyers for the 25 to 34 year age group (ABS 2004b; Trewin 2003). The high rate of family events in this age group tended to reflect people of this age group either facing problems related to raising children or facing relationship breakdowns.14

Family events peaked in the 35 to 44 year age group. This finding is consistent with that of Pleasence et al. (2004b) who note that the high rates of these problems reflect the high rates of people of this age who live with a partner and have dependent children.15 Credit/debt, consumer and education events were also relatively high in this age group.

The incidence rates for wills/estates and employment events peaked in the 45 to 54 year age group. The incidence of all other types of events tended to decline progressively after the mid-forties or mid-fifties. Family and education events showed considerably large declines after the mid-forties. These declines probably reflect the fact that as people move into their late forties and fifties, their children start to leave home (e.g. Pleasence et al. 2004b) and finish their formal education.

The present results suggest that there may be benefits to tailoring legal service provision according to the different types of legal issues experienced at different life stages. Similar strategies have been adopted in other areas, such as banking, investment and insurance, where savings, superannuation and insurance schemes are tailored to the typical financial needs experienced by different age groups (e.g. Datamonitor Market Briefing 2003; Department of Family and Community Services 2005; MostChoice 2005; Urban Institute 2000).

Indigenous Australians

According to the present results, Indigenous Australian status was not related to the overall incidence of legal events, but Indigenous respondents were more likely than non-Indigenous respondents to report credit/debt, employment and family events, and less likely to report wills/estates events. While the relationship between ethnicity and the incidence of legal events has been examined by some past research studies (e.g. Cass & Sackville 1975; Fishwick 1992; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Task Force 2003), few of these studies have specifically examined the relationship between Indigenous status and the incidence of legal events. In New Zealand, Maxwell et al. (1999) found a relationship between Indigenous status and the incidence of legal problems, indicating that Maoris were more likely than other ethnic groups to report experiencing a number of legal problems.

The present relatively high rates of credit/debt, employment and family legal events among Indigenous people is not surprising given nationwide survey data showing that Indigenous Australians as a group suffer multiple types of economic and social disadvantage (ABS 2004c). For example, the present high rates of credit/debt and employment events among Indigenous participants are consistent with data showing lower average gross income, higher levels of financial stress, lower levels of labour force participation and higher levels of unemployment among Indigenous Australians than among non-Indigenous Australians (ABS 2004d; ABS & AIHW 2005). The high rate of family events among Indigenous people in the present study is also consistent with national survey data showing that Indigenous children are over-represented in statutory child protection services (ABS & AIHW 2005).

The higher incidence of employment and family events among Indigenous participants is of particular interest given present and past evidence suggesting that these problems tend to endure and can trigger further problems. For example, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that family problems tend to be long lasting and Genn (1999) reported that unemployment can trigger further problems relating to welfare benefits, debt and compensation. The present study found that employment and family events are among the event types that are less likely to be resolved (see section entitled Factors related to resolution of legal events).

The lower incidence of wills/estates events for Indigenous people is also of note because, unlike many other types of legal events, wills/estates events do not usually constitute legal problems. Rather, wills/estates events involve a basic form of planning in relation to major assets and usually indicate taking positive legal action to put one’s affairs in order. Thus, the lower rate of wills/estates events for Indigenous Australians is consistent with a higher level of unmet or unrecognised legal need among this group.16

Non-English speaking background

In the present study, the relationship of ethnicity to reporting legal events was also examined in terms of country of birth.17 People born in an English speaking country reported a higher overall incidence of legal events, and a higher incidence of accident/injury, wills/estates and general crime events more specifically. Fishwick (1992) similarly reported that people of English speaking background in NSW were more likely than those from a non-English speaking background to report experiencing legal events, while Cass and Sackville (1975) found that Australian-born respondents were more likely than migrants to report multiple legal problems.

As was the case with the oldest age group, it is not clear whether the lower reporting rates of people born in a non-English speaking country reflect actual lower incidence rates. The lower reporting rates may also reflect a failure to identify legal problems for whatever reason. This possibility is in keeping with past research findings suggesting an ignorance of legal rights and avenues for legal resolution among people from a non-English speaking background. For example, the Australian Law Reform Commission (1992) found that people of non-English speaking backgrounds faced a lack of information about the law, a lack of access to suitable interpreters, and the perception that there is cultural insensitivity in the operation and administration of the law. Cass and Sackville (1975) reported that many legal problems were exacerbated for non-British migrants in Sydney because of their poor English, poor understanding of their legal rights and poor knowledge of the existence and scope of legal services including legal aid schemes.

As with the oldest age group, the reason behind the lower reporting rates of people from non-English speaking background in the present study warrants further investigation. If the lower reporting rates reflect a failure to recognise legal problems for whatever reason, specialised information strategies targeting this group may be warranted.

It is interesting that, once again, the present results indicate that the minority group is the group with a lower incidence of wills/estates events. Again, this finding is consistent with a failure to take legal action to put one’s affairs in order.

Disability

The present findings indicate that people who have a chronic health or disability problem report relatively higher rates of a wide range of legal problems. The present study found higher overall rates of legal events, as well as higher rates for all 10 of the most common types of legal events with the exception of wills/estates events (see Table 9.1).18 However, as mentioned earlier, the occurrence of wills/estates events, unlike the occurrence of other types of events, frequently signifies taking positive action to meet legal need rather than a legal problem. Thus, people with a chronic illness or disability had higher incidence rates for all the frequently occurring legal event groups where the experience of legal events tends to indicate legal need or legal problems.

These findings are in keeping with past surveys showing a high level of legal need among people with a disability or illness (Dale 2000; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b; Task Force 2003), and are not particularly surprising given statistics showing that Australians with poor or only fair health have increased risk of multiple types of social and economic disadvantage (ABS 2004c).

As noted elsewhere, the association of chronic ill-health and disability with legal problems may well be bi-directional: chronic ill-health/disability may not only increase vulnerability to legal problems, but may also be brought about or worsened by such problems (Pleasence et al. 2004b). In any case, the consistent relationship between chronic illness or disability and a wide range of legal problems indicates the importance of ensuring that legal services meet the needs of this disadvantaged group.

Income

According to the present regression analyses, people with the highest personal incomes generally reported higher overall rates of legal events and higher rates for six of the 10 most frequent types of legal events (see Table 9.1).19 It is worth noting that this relationship between reporting legal events and income is in fact independent of any association between income and education. Thus, the higher reporting rates for high-income earners cannot be fully explained by higher levels of education among high-income earners.

The higher incidence of legal events among high-income earners in the present study is contrary to the expectation that socially and economically disadvantaged groups will have higher levels of legal need. However, although past research has reliably shown a relationship between economic indicators and the incidence of legal needs, the relationship appears to be complex and is not always in the same direction. Some studies have found higher incidence rates among low-income groups. For example, Dale (2000) reported relatively high incidence rates for homeless people and Pleasence et al. (2004b) reported high incidence rates for persons in the lowest income bracket, lone parents and persons in rented or high-density housing. On the other hand, similarly to the present study, other studies have found high overall incidence rates for those with higher incomes (ABA 1994; Fishwick 1992; LJF 2003). Furthermore, although Pleasence et al. found that those in the lowest income bracket had the highest overall incidence of justiciable problems, those in the highest income bracket had the second highest overall incidence.

In considering the different relationships between incidence rates and income evidenced across studies it should be remembered that studies have differed in their measurement of both income and legal needs. While the present study, like some previous studies, used personal income to identify low-income groups (Cass & Sackville 1975; Curran 1977; LJF 2003; Maxwell et al. 1999), other studies used household income (e.g. ABA 1994; Dale 2000; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001; NCC 1995; Rush 1999; Schulman et al. 2003; Spangenberg Group 1989; Task Force 2003), and sometimes studies identified specific low-income groups such as the homeless (e.g. Dale 2000).20 Furthermore, studies have differed considerably in the number, range, type and severity of legal events they covered.

There are a few possible explanations of the varying relationship between incidence rates and income. Firstly, it is simply possible that, in some populations, low-income earners do in fact experience a smaller number of legal events than high-income earners. Note that a smaller number of legal events may or may not reflect a lower level of legal need since the number of events does not take into account the seriousness or intractability of those events.

Secondly, it is possible that low-income groups generally do have a high level of legal need, but that, in some studies, whether due to cultural or other factors, they are relatively less likely than high-income earners to recognise their legal issues or relatively more reluctant to complain about them. Or, if low-income groups do have more serious legal needs, they may be less likely to identify relatively trivial matters as legal problems and may tend to identify as problems only the more serious of their legal needs.

Thirdly, it is possible that low-income groups have different legal needs to high-income groups. If this were the case, the inconsistent relationship between income and the overall incidence of legal events across studies would partly depend on the number, range and types of legal events included in different surveys.

Some support for the argument that low- and high-income groups tend to experience different types of legal events is provided by the fact that there was some commonality between the present study and the Pleasence et al. (2004b) study in the types of events reported by high-income earners. In both studies, high-income earners reported high rates of events that are consistent with having relatively high levels of disposable income, assets and possessions. Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that high-income earners had high incidence rates for consumer, investment and owned housing problems, and suggest that these rates most likely reflect higher levels of consumer activity and home ownership among high-income earners.21 Similarly, in the present study, high-income earners had relatively high incidence rates of consumer and housing events, and the high incidence of housing events was largely a result of a high incidence of buying or selling a home.22 The present study also found a high incidence rate of general crime events among high-income earners, which is consistent with high-income earners having valuable possessions, given that this high rate was largely due to high rates of stolen or vandalised property.23 National crime victimisation survey data similarly show high crime victimisation rates among individuals with high household income (Johnson 2005).24 Finally, the high incidence of wills/estates events among high-income earners in the present study may also reflect a greater need to take care of valuable assets.25 The Task Force (2003) similarly found that moderate-income households were more likely than low-income households to report legal issues related to estates and trusts.26

It is important to note that the various possibilities presented above for the varying relationship between the incidence of legal events and income are not mutually exclusive. For example, it is possible that, compared with high-income earners, low-income earners have more serious legal needs, are less able to recognise or less willing to complain about their legal needs, and tend to experience different types of legal needs. Identifying the reasons behind the particular incidence rates reported by different income groups is an important question for future research that would assist in the appropriate tailoring of legal services to the needs of different income groups.

Education

The present study found that, compared with those who had completed schooling only as far as Year 10, university graduates were more likely to report legal events overall and more likely to report government and wills/estates events (see Table 9.1). It is worth noting that the present relationship between reporting legal events and education is independent of any relationship between education and income. A few other studies have also reported a link between academic qualifications and increased likelihood of reporting legal events (Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence et al. 2004b). However, as with the present study, Pleasence et al. (2004b) did not find education to be a significant predictor across most legal problem types.27

Again, it is not clear whether the lower overall reporting rates of legal events by people with lower academic qualifications reflect a lower actual incidence rate or a failure to recognise or admit to legal problems. To the extent that the latter is the case, legal education and information strategies may be useful in helping this demographic group to identify and face their legal problems.



The high rate of general crime events in the present study is consistent with Australian crime victimisation survey data. General crime events in the present study included stolen/vandalised property (19%) and assault (9%), as well as other events such as police failing to investigate a crime (4%) and unfair treatment by police (2%). Johnson (2005) reports a victimisation rate of 11% for household crimes including burglary and vehicle theft, and a victimisation rate of 9% for personal crimes including assault.
Maxwell et al. (1999) also reported a three-year incidence rate of 51 per cent.
The present survey included 16 criminal law events and covered 101 legal events in total. Genn (1999) and Genn and Paterson (2001) covered 60 justiciable events, while Pleasence et al. (2004b) covered 78.
It should also be noted that some of these surveys covered a narrower range of legal problems when compared with the United Kingdom surveys (Cass & Sackville 1975, Spangenberg Group 1989).
Pleasence et al. (2004b) conducted a cluster analysis on the data from Genns (1999) study.
In the present study, events related to welfare benefits were part of the government legal event group and events related to neighbours were part of the housing legal event group. Both of these legal event groups contributed to the broad cluster according to the cluster analysis. In the Genn (1999) data, the category money problems included problems related to welfare benefits, and the category owned housing problems included problems relating to neighbours, and both these categories contributed to the broad cluster.
For example, the present cluster analysis indicated that general crime and will/estates events also contributed to the broad cluster. These events were not a focus of the British studies.
The present factor analysis indicated that consumer events contributed significantly to both the broad cluster and the economic cluster consisting of credit/debt and business events.
In the present study, although regressions were not conducted for reporting domestic violence events (due to small numbers), the chi-square tests suggested that females were significantly more likely than males to report domestic violence events (see Appendix Table C27). Furthermore, although gender was not a significant independent predictor in the regression for reporting family events, there was a significant bivariate (chi-square) relationship whereby females were significantly more likely than males to report family events (?2=4.68, df=1, p=0.031). (N.B. Pleasence et al. (2004b) also found higher rates of clinical negligence events among females and higher rates of unfair treatment by police among males. Fishwick (1992) also reported higher rates of insurance events among males and higher rates of disputes concerning housing, loans and government departments among females. The Task Force (2003) found that low-income women had disproportionately high levels of legal need in a number of other areas such as disability, estates and trusts, and education.)
Wherever there were sufficient numbers, chi-square tests were performed examining the relationship between age and each specific consumer and housing event (listed in Appendix Table B1). The 15 to 24 year age group had a relatively high incidence of problems re goods/services (?2=51.67, df=5, p<0.000), disputes with neighbours (?2=11.43, df=5, p=0.044), homelessness (?2=30.74, df=5, p<0.000) and tenancy problems (?2=16.87, df=5, p=0.005).
Wherever there were sufficient numbers, chi-square tests were performed examining the relationship between age and each specific consumer, credit/debt and housing event (listed in Appendix Table B1). The 25 to 34 year age group had a relatively high incidence of problems paying bill/debt (?2=29.77, df=5, p<0.000), disputes re credit rating (?2=28.53, df=5, p<0.000), problems re goods/services (?2=51.67, df=5, p<0.000), disputes with financial institutions (?2=26.97, df=5, p<0.000), buying/selling a home (?2=42.50, df=5, p<0.000) and homelessness (?2=30.74, df=5, p<0.000).
Dissaving actions involve borrowing for consumer goods where expenditure exceeds income, and include mortgages, other large loans and credit card debts.
Wherever there were sufficient numbers, chi-square tests were performed examining the relationship between age and each specific family event (listed in Appendix Table B1). The 25 to 34 year age group had a relatively high incidence of problems re residence/contact arrangements for children (?2=26.85, df=3, p<0.000), problems re child support payments (?2=10.64, df=3, p=0.014) and divorce/separation (?2=31.16, df=4, p=0.000).
Wherever there were sufficient numbers, chi-square tests were performed examining the relationship between age and each specific family event (listed in Appendix Table B1). The 35 to 44 year age group had a relatively high incidence of problems re residence/contact arrangements for children (?2=26.85, df=3, p<0.000) and problems re child support payments (?2=10.64, df=3, p=0.014), and moderately high rates of divorce/separation (?2=31.16, df=4, p=0.000).
Given the relatively high level of socioeconomic disadvantage suffered by Indigenous people (ABS 2004d), the lower rate of wills/estates events for Indigenous people may in part reflect having fewer valuable assets to take care of.
Other possible measures of ethnicity include language spoken at home and preferred language.
Although, due to relatively small numbers, regression analyses were not conducted for reporting each of the five least frequent event groups (business, health, human rights, domestic violence, traffic offences), the chi-square analyses suggested that people with a chronic illness or disability were also significantly more likely than others to report experiencing business and human rights events (see Appendix Tables C24 and C26).
Although there was a significant interaction between age and personal income in the present study, including this interaction term in the regression for reporting legal events of any type resulted in the same set of significant variables and the direction of the relationship between income and reporting events was unaffected. The interaction term was also the least influential of the significant predictors. Consequently, results for the simpler regression, with the interaction term excluded, are used in the present report.
Household and family income tend to be more commonly used measures of income than personal income because it is assumed that income is shared among household or family members, and that the number of household or family members who actually earn the income is irrelevant (Harding et al. 2001).
Pleasence et al. (2004b) also found that high-income earners reported high rates of problems with builders and holidays.
Wherever there were sufficient numbers, chi-square tests were performed examining the relationship between income and each specific housing event (listed in Appendix Table B1). The only significant chi-square indicating a relatively higher incidence for the $1000+ income group was that for buying or selling a home (?2=47.76, df=3, p<0.000).
Wherever there were sufficient numbers, chi-square tests were performed examining the relationship between income and each specific general crime event (listed in Appendix Table B1). The only significant chi-square indicating a relatively higher incidence for the $1000+ income group was that for stolen/vandalised property (?2=20.60, df=3, p<0.000). General crime events were not a focus of the Pleasence et al. (2004b) study.
Individuals with high household income had relatively high victimisation rates for both household crime (i.e. burglary, attempted burglary, motor vehicle theft, theft from motor vehicle, motor cycle theft, bicycle theft) and personal crime (i.e. assaults and threats, robbery, personal theft).
Wills/estates events were not a focus of the Pleasence et al. (2004b) study.
In the present study, high-income earners also had a relatively high incidence of accident/injury events. In addition, there was a significant relationship between income and the incidence of family events, with the two middle-income groups reporting the highest rates of family events.
Pleasence et al. (2004b) also found that the link between academic qualifications and incidence to some extent reflected a link between academic qualifications and age. When an age by academic qualifications interaction was included in their regression model, academic qualifications moved from being the second to the eighth most influential predictor. In the present study, the age by education interaction term was not significant in the model for reporting legal events of any type. Thus, the simpler model, without the interaction term is presented in the present report.

 The high rate of general crime events in the present study is consistent with Australian crime victimisation survey data. General crime events in the present study included stolen/vandalised property (19%) and assault (9%), as well as other events such as police failing to investigate a crime (4%) and unfair treatment by police (2%). Johnson (2005) reports a victimisation rate of 11% for household crimes including burglary and vehicle theft, and a victimisation rate of 9% for personal crimes including assault.
 Maxwell et al. (1999) also reported a three-year incidence rate of 51 per cent.
 The present survey included 16 criminal law events and covered 101 legal events in total. Genn (1999) and Genn and Paterson (2001) covered 60 justiciable events, while Pleasence et al. (2004b) covered 78.
 It should also be noted that some of these surveys covered a narrower range of legal problems when compared with the United Kingdom surveys (Cass & Sackville 1975, Spangenberg Group 1989).
 Pleasence et al. (2004b) conducted a cluster analysis on the data from Genns (1999) study.
 In the present study, events related to welfare benefits were part of the government legal event group and events related to neighbours were part of the housing legal event group. Both of these legal event groups contributed to the broad cluster according to the cluster analysis. In the Genn (1999) data, the category money problems included problems related to welfare benefits, and the category owned housing problems included problems relating to neighbours, and both these categories contributed to the broad cluster.
 For example, the present cluster analysis indicated that general crime and will/estates events also contributed to the broad cluster. These events were not a focus of the British studies.
 The present factor analysis indicated that consumer events contributed significantly to both the broad cluster and the economic cluster consisting of credit/debt and business events.
10  In the present study, although regressions were not conducted for reporting domestic violence events (due to small numbers), the chi-square tests suggested that females were significantly more likely than males to report domestic violence events (see Appendix Table C27). Furthermore, although gender was not a significant independent predictor in the regression for reporting family events, there was a significant bivariate (chi-square) relationship whereby females were significantly more likely than males to report family events (?2=4.68, df=1, p=0.031). (N.B. Pleasence et al. (2004b) also found higher rates of clinical negligence events among females and higher rates of unfair treatment by police among males. Fishwick (1992) also reported higher rates of insurance events among males and higher rates of disputes concerning housing, loans and government departments among females. The Task Force (2003) found that low-income women had disproportionately high levels of legal need in a number of other areas such as disability, estates and trusts, and education.)
11  Wherever there were sufficient numbers, chi-square tests were performed examining the relationship between age and each specific consumer and housing event (listed in Appendix Table B1). The 15 to 24 year age group had a relatively high incidence of problems re goods/services (?2=51.67, df=5, p<0.000), disputes with neighbours (?2=11.43, df=5, p=0.044), homelessness (?2=30.74, df=5, p<0.000) and tenancy problems (?2=16.87, df=5, p=0.005).
12  Wherever there were sufficient numbers, chi-square tests were performed examining the relationship between age and each specific consumer, credit/debt and housing event (listed in Appendix Table B1). The 25 to 34 year age group had a relatively high incidence of problems paying bill/debt (?2=29.77, df=5, p<0.000), disputes re credit rating (?2=28.53, df=5, p<0.000), problems re goods/services (?2=51.67, df=5, p<0.000), disputes with financial institutions (?2=26.97, df=5, p<0.000), buying/selling a home (?2=42.50, df=5, p<0.000) and homelessness (?2=30.74, df=5, p<0.000).
13  Dissaving actions involve borrowing for consumer goods where expenditure exceeds income, and include mortgages, other large loans and credit card debts.
14  Wherever there were sufficient numbers, chi-square tests were performed examining the relationship between age and each specific family event (listed in Appendix Table B1). The 25 to 34 year age group had a relatively high incidence of problems re residence/contact arrangements for children (?2=26.85, df=3, p<0.000), problems re child support payments (?2=10.64, df=3, p=0.014) and divorce/separation (?2=31.16, df=4, p=0.000).
15  Wherever there were sufficient numbers, chi-square tests were performed examining the relationship between age and each specific family event (listed in Appendix Table B1). The 35 to 44 year age group had a relatively high incidence of problems re residence/contact arrangements for children (?2=26.85, df=3, p<0.000) and problems re child support payments (?2=10.64, df=3, p=0.014), and moderately high rates of divorce/separation (?2=31.16, df=4, p=0.000).
16  Given the relatively high level of socioeconomic disadvantage suffered by Indigenous people (ABS 2004d), the lower rate of wills/estates events for Indigenous people may in part reflect having fewer valuable assets to take care of.
17  Other possible measures of ethnicity include language spoken at home and preferred language.
18  Although, due to relatively small numbers, regression analyses were not conducted for reporting each of the five least frequent event groups (business, health, human rights, domestic violence, traffic offences), the chi-square analyses suggested that people with a chronic illness or disability were also significantly more likely than others to report experiencing business and human rights events (see Appendix Tables C24 and C26).
19  Although there was a significant interaction between age and personal income in the present study, including this interaction term in the regression for reporting legal events of any type resulted in the same set of significant variables and the direction of the relationship between income and reporting events was unaffected. The interaction term was also the least influential of the significant predictors. Consequently, results for the simpler regression, with the interaction term excluded, are used in the present report.
20  Household and family income tend to be more commonly used measures of income than personal income because it is assumed that income is shared among household or family members, and that the number of household or family members who actually earn the income is irrelevant (Harding et al. 2001).
21  Pleasence et al. (2004b) also found that high-income earners reported high rates of problems with builders and holidays.
22  Wherever there were sufficient numbers, chi-square tests were performed examining the relationship between income and each specific housing event (listed in Appendix Table B1). The only significant chi-square indicating a relatively higher incidence for the $1000+ income group was that for buying or selling a home (?2=47.76, df=3, p<0.000).
23  Wherever there were sufficient numbers, chi-square tests were performed examining the relationship between income and each specific general crime event (listed in Appendix Table B1). The only significant chi-square indicating a relatively higher incidence for the $1000+ income group was that for stolen/vandalised property (?2=20.60, df=3, p<0.000). General crime events were not a focus of the Pleasence et al. (2004b) study.
24  Individuals with high household income had relatively high victimisation rates for both household crime (i.e. burglary, attempted burglary, motor vehicle theft, theft from motor vehicle, motor cycle theft, bicycle theft) and personal crime (i.e. assaults and threats, robbery, personal theft).
25  Wills/estates events were not a focus of the Pleasence et al. (2004b) study.
26  In the present study, high-income earners also had a relatively high incidence of accident/injury events. In addition, there was a significant relationship between income and the incidence of family events, with the two middle-income groups reporting the highest rates of family events.
27  Pleasence et al. (2004b) also found that the link between academic qualifications and incidence to some extent reflected a link between academic qualifications and age. When an age by academic qualifications interaction was included in their regression model, academic qualifications moved from being the second to the eighth most influential predictor. In the present study, the age by education interaction term was not significant in the model for reporting legal events of any type. Thus, the simpler model, without the interaction term is presented in the present report.


CLOSE
Coumarelos, C, Wei , Z & Zhou, AH 2006, Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney