LawAccess NSW 2002-2004
The goal of the Law and Justice Foundation's Access to Justice and Legal Needs Research Program is to identify the particular legal and access to justice needs of economically and socially disadvantaged people in New South Wales.
The Data Digest series of reports contributes to this research program by providing detailed information on the nature of legal inquiries made to the major public legal assistance services in this state. Such inquiries may be viewed as providing a picture of expressed legal in NSW.
This particular report examines legal inquiries made to LawAccess NSW between 2002 and 2004. LawAccess NSW is a free government telephone service providing information, advice and referrals for people with a legal problem. LawAccess NSW was established in September 2001 to assist people who experience difficulty in accessing other public legal services. The Advice services of LawAccess NSW are targeted to disadvantaged groups, such as persons living in rural and remote areas, Aboriginal people, people with a disability and people from non-English speaking backgrounds.
The types of legal inquiries made to LawAccess NSW, the demographic characteristics of persons seeking legal assistance, and the pathways taken by these persons to resolve their legal problems are detailed in this report.
Type of legal matter
Demographics of service users
- More than half (56%) of all inquiries to LawAccess NSW made from 2002 to 2004 concerned civil law matters. Family law inquiries were the next most frequent (30%) type of legal inquiry. Fourteen per cent of inquiries related to criminal law matters.
- During the three-year period:
- the number of family law inquiries increased by more than 94 per cent
- the number of criminal law inquiries increased by 118 per cent
- the number of civil law inquiries increased by 74 per cent
- the overall number of inquiries increased by more than 85 per cent.
- Inquiries relating to children (under family law) accounted for the highest proportion of all inquiries (13.5%).
- Criminal offences represented 12.8 per cent of inquiries to LawAccess NSW, with motor/traffic offences accounting for the highest proportion (42%) of criminal offence inquiries, followed by offences against persons (22%) and theft & property offences (10%).
- Housing issues were the most common type of civil law inquiry, representing almost nine per cent of all inquiries. Credit/debt (8.2%), employment (7.8%), will/estates (6.7%) and accidents, injury & liability (6.4%) were also common topics of civil law inquiries.
- Legal inquiries relating to children (family law), domestic violence, criminal offences (criminal law), credit/debt, employment and housing (civil law) rose significantly from 2002 to 2004. On the other hand, legal inquiries relating to family relationships (family law), the legal system and wills/estates (civil law) decreased significantly over the same period.
- Females were the main users of LawAccess NSW, making significantly more inquiries than expected from their share in the NSW population.
- Men and women made roughly the same proportion of civil law inquiries, but women made significantly more family law inquiries and significantly fewer criminal law inquiries compared with men.
- Four specific areas of law – children (family law), criminal offences (criminal law), credit/debt and housing (civil law) – appeared in the top five inquiries for both men and women.
- Women made a higher proportion of family law inquiries than men across all specific areas of family law. Women also made a significantly higher proportion of health, housing and wills/estates inquiries than men.
- Men made a significantly higher proportion of criminal law inquiries than women, and this was the case across all three specific areas of criminal law, including victims of crime. Men also made a significantly higher proportion of civil law inquiries concerning accidents, injury & liability, business/media, consumers, credit/debt, employment, government, immigration/refugees and the legal system.
Region of residence
- Persons aged 25 to 54 years, were the main users of LawAccess NSW. This group was involved in approximately 80 per cent of inquiries to the service but made up just over 43 per cent of the NSW population.
- Persons under 25 years of age were using the service more in 2004 than in the previous two years, although their usage continued to be much lower than expected given their share in the NSW population. The same applied for persons aged 55 years and older.
- For each age group, the highest proportion of inquiries to LawAccess NSW concerned civil law matters. However, there is a clear trend of an increasing need for legal assistance for civil law matters as people get older.
- Criminal law inquiries were more common for those aged less than 25 years, whereas family law inquiries were more common for the 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 age groups.
- Rural/regional NSW and the greater Sydney metropolitan area had an identical rate of legal inquiries to LawAccess NSW per capita (i.e. 11.9 inquiries per 1000 resident population).
- Gosford-Wyong, Inner Sydney, Richmond-Tweed, Central Western Sydney, Mid-North Coast and Outer Western Sydney recorded the highest rates of legal inquiries to LawAccess NSW.
- Murray, Murrumbidgee, Central Northern Sydney, Central West, Northern Beaches and Outer South Western Sydney had the lowest rates of legal inquiries to LawAccess NSW.
- In both the greater Sydney metropolitan area and regional/rural NSW, the highest proportion of inquiries to LawAccess NSW was for civil law matters, followed by family law matters, then by criminal law matters.
- However, the proportion of inquiries concerning civil law matters tended to be significantly higher in the Sydney metropolitan area compared with the area of the state outside Sydney. Furthermore, the proportion of inquiries concerning family law matters tended to be significantly higher in areas of regional/rural NSW than in the Sydney area.
- LawAccess NSW provided a higher level of legal advice to persons living outside Sydney. Around half of all legal advice was provided to inquirers living in regional and rural areas of NSW. By contrast, this group made up only 37 per cent of the NSW population. This is reflective of the service policy of LawAccess NSW to assist people who have difficulty in accessing other public legal services. Persons residing in regional and rural NSW are a target group identified by LawAccess NSW for its services.
Source of inquiry
- Service users found out about LawAccess NSW in a range of ways, with the top five external sources of inquiries being the telephone book (16%), the Law Society of NSW (7%), friend/family (4%), courts/chamber registrars (3%) and community organisations (2%).
- Inquiries that were dealt with by LawAccess NSW through the provision of information only or through the provision of advice tended to originate from slightly different sources. Information inquiries tended to come from the telephone book, whereas inquiries to the Advice service tended to originate from 'active' referral points such as other public legal services (i.e. community legal centres and Legal Aid), community organisations, police and courts/chamber registrars.
- The source of inquiry, in general, also reflected the nature of the legal inquiry. Inquirers with a family law problem were more likely to come to LawAccess from a friend/family member, community organisation, a government agency or legal publication, whereas those with a criminal law problem were more likely to be referred by police or court/chamber registrar. Persons with a civil law problem were more likely to make an inquiry after learning about LawAccess from the NSW Law Society, a media source or the telephone book.
- In almost half (48%) of all inquiries, LawAccess NSW considered that the matter had been dealt with satisfactorily and no further referral of the inquiry was considered necessary.
- For those inquiries where LawAccess made a referral, a large proportion (35%) of referred inquiries went to public legal services. Legal Aid NSW, in particular, received almost three out of every four inquiries referred by LawAccess NSW to public legal assistance services.
- There was an even split of the remaining inquiries referred by LawAccess NSW with courts and tribunals picking up 14 per cent of referred inquiries, government agencies receiving 13 per cent, and private legal services, community organisations and dispute resolution services each receiving 12 per cent of all inquiries referred on by LawAccess NSW.