Finalisation of legal problems: Australian summary
The LAW Survey examined the finalisation status at the time of interview of 19 388 of the legal problems experienced by the Australian sample. Respondents reported that 63.9 per cent of these legal problems had been finalised.
The survey revealed that the vast majority of legal problems were finalised outside the formal justice system. Only 3.4 per cent were finalised through court or tribunal proceedings. In addition, only a small proportion were finalised through formal dispute resolution or complaint-handling processes (3.4%). Most commonly, problems were finalised through agreement with the other side (29.9%) or through the respondent either not pursuing the matter at all or deciding not to pursue the matter further (29.8%). A sizeable proportion of problems (15.0%) were also finalised through the decisions or actions of other agencies, such as government bodies, insurance companies or the police.
Problem characteristics influenced the manner in which legal problems were finalised. First, problem severity was significantly related to the manner of finalisation. For example, substantial problems were more likely to be finalised via court, tribunal, formal dispute resolution or complaint-handling processes or via the help of a lawyer or someone else. Minor problems were more likely to be finalised through other agencies, such as government bodies, insurance companies or the police, or through agreement with the other side. Second, the type of problem influenced the manner of finalisation. Notably, family and money problems were the most likely to be finalised via court, tribunal, formal dispute resolution or complaint-handling processes.
In addition, the manner of finalisation appeared to vary according to the strategy used by the respondent in response to the legal problem.(8)
For example, problems involving advice appeared to be more likely than other problems to conclude via court, tribunal, formal dispute resolution or complaint-handling processes or via other agencies, such as government bodies, insurance companies or the police. Problems handled without advice appeared to be more likely than other problems to conclude via agreement with the other side or via the other side not pursuing the matter further.
Regression and other statistical analyses were used to identify the factors related to whether problems were finalised or still ongoing at the time of interview. The characteristics of problems appreciably influenced their finalisation status. The regression revealed that problem group was the strongest predictor of finalisation status, with credit/debt, family, government, housing and money problems having lower finalisation levels than average. Problem recency was also a significant, albeit weaker, predictor in the regression, with lower levels of finalisation for more recent legal problems. In addition, other analyses revealed that the likelihood of finalising a legal problem was significantly related to its severity, its consequences and the number of other problems experienced by the respondent. That is, finalisation rates:
- were lower for substantial problems (51.8%) than for minor problems (74.4%)
- decreased as the number of adverse consequences caused by problems increased
- decreased as the number of problems experienced by respondents increased.
According to the regression, strategy was the second strongest predictor of finalisation. Legal problems were more likely to be finalised if respondents had taken no action to try to resolve these problems.
Furthermore, most demographic characteristics were significant predictors of finalisation, although they were weaker than both problem group and strategy. Age was the strongest of the demographic predictors, with respondents aged 65 years or over having lower odds of finalisation than 15–34 year olds. In addition, with the exception of people who had been unemployed and people living in remote areas, all of the disadvantaged demographic groups examined in the regression were less likely to have finalised their problems. Compared to their counterparts, the following disadvantaged groups had significantly lower odds of finalisation:
- people whose main language was not English
- people with a disability
- Indigenous people
- single parents
- people who had lived in disadvantaged housing
- people whose main source of income was government payments
- people who had not finished school (versus those with post-school qualifications).
Hence, these disadvantaged demographic groups were less likely to have achieved finalisation, even after the characteristics of the legal problem and the strategy used had been taken into account.
The LAW Survey results for Australia on the finalisation of legal problems are interpreted further in Chapters 9 and 10. These chapters compare the Australian results to the LAW Survey results for other jurisdictions and to international findings.
8. A significance test was not conducted, due to the co-dependence between strategy and manner of finalisation.