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Access to justice and legal needs. Stage 1: public consultations  ( 2003 )  Cite this report

Ch 1. Who is disadvantaged in seeking access to justice?

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Homeless people

1.41 The disadvantaged position of homeless people in relation to accessing legal services and the legal system was also identified in the consultation process.52

1.42 The Legal Counselling and Referral Centre (LCRC), operating out of St. John’s Church in Darlinghurst, Inner Sydney, was specifically established in response to the issues relating to homeless people and their interaction with the law and legal system. In their submission, the service details some of the particular issues which impact on the legal needs of homeless people:

    Relationship issues

    Over time these clients have often developed inappropriate relationship skills. Case histories reveal abuse as children followed by violence as the client’s first choice in resolving differences later in life. These clients present either with Apprehended Violence Orders taken out against them or seeking to take out such orders to protect themselves.

    Housing issues

    A Department of Housing flat of their own is the ‘dream’ for most clients coming to the LCRC. The reality is often a room in a boarding house, a room in a refuge or shared accommodation at a hostel. As boarders these clients have little or no rights or privacy. Often they will be the victims of landlords, finding themselves and their belongings on the footpath.

    Living 'rough'

    For many clients, the reality is living on the streets, sleeping during the day when it is safe to do so and wandering the streets at night. Regular meals are obtained from the various food vans operating in the city and in Darlinghurst. But living ‘rough’ often places the clients at risk of assault. Tempers flare and blows are struck. Criminal charges will follow for one set of clients while the other seeks recourse in claims made to the Victims Compensation Tribunal.

    Mismanaging available funds

    Many of the clients coming to the LCRC are easy targets for people selling ‘attractive’ ways of life - the mobile phone companies who take advantage of those who can least afford contracts. The accumulation of fines, arrears on contract repayments, Centrelink repayments and repayments to pawn brokers mean these clients need someone to advocate on their behalf

    – to negotiate and implement a system of payment by instalments or

    – to reduce amounts being unfairly claimed by creditors.

    Poor health

    Many LCRC clients have mental health issues or chronic health complaints making them eligible for the disability support benefit. The chances of these clients obtaining employment are often negligible, so that they are confronted as well with boredom and lack of self-esteem. ……. this boredom can lead the client to begin or to increase their drug and alcohol use, only compounding the health issues and adding to the likelihood of the clients coming to the attention of the law enforcement bodies.

    Drug and alcohol dependence

    Most of the criminal charges faced by the clients coming to the LCRC arise out of a drug or alcohol problem.53

1.43 The LCRC also noted that issues of mental illness, intellectual disability and drug and alcohol dependency are often associated with homelessness, and present further issues of disadvantage.54

Submission from the Inner West Tenancy Advice Service, Overcoming Barriers - A National Pro Bono Workshop, Sydney, 15 August 2002.
Submission from Legal Counselling and Referral Centre.

52  Submission from the Inner West Tenancy Advice Service, Overcoming Barriers - A National Pro Bono Workshop, Sydney, 15 August 2002.
53  Submission from Legal Counselling and Referral Centre.
54  Ibid.

Schetzer, L. & Henderson, J 2003, Public consultations: a project to identify legal needs, pathways and barriers for disadvantaged people in NSW, Access to justice and legal needs vol. 1, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney