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Research Report: Legal Australia-Wide Survey: Legal need in Australia
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Legal Australia-Wide Survey: Legal need in Australia  ( 2012 )  Cite this report

9. Findings across Australia in context

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Legal knowledge and capability

The LAW Survey demonstrated considerable gaps in legal knowledge about not-for-profit legal services in all jurisdictions. Although there was very high awareness of Legal Aid (87–91%), awareness of ALSs was usually more moderate and awareness of the other legal services examined was considerably lower. Across jurisdictions, 51–84 per cent of (Indigenous) respondents recognised ALSs, 32–40 per cent of respondents recognised CLCs, and 26–42 per cent of respondents recognised services provided by court registrars and court staff.(51) In Australia as a whole, the recognition rates were 88 per cent for Legal Aid, 67 per cent for ALSs, 36 per cent for CLCs and 34 per cent for court services. There were significant differences between states/territories in the recognition of each legal service.(52) Specifically, compared to average, the recognition rates for:
    • ALSs were higher in the Northern Territory (84%) but lower in NSW (59%) and Tasmania (51%)
    • CLCs were higher in Victoria (40%) and the Northern Territory (39%) but lower in Queensland (33%), South Australia (33%) and Tasmania (32%)
    • court services were higher in NSW (42%) but lower in Victoria (29%), Western Australia (29%), South Australia (27%) and Tasmania (26%)
    • Legal Aid were higher in Tasmania (91%), the Northern Territory (91%) and the ACT (90%) but lower in NSW (87%) and Victoria (87%).

The differences between states/territories in awareness of not-for-profit legal services may reflect differences in state/territory demographic compositions, differences in proximity to legal services (e.g. due to differences in urbanisation) or various other differences in legal or social service environments across jurisdictions. For example, the higher awareness of ALSs in the Northern Territory may to some extent reflect a greater visibility of these services, given the large proportion of Indigenous people in this jurisdiction. The higher awareness of court services in NSW may partially reflect jurisdictional differences in service provision, such as the long-established chamber service, which is a unique feature of NSW local courts.(53)

Similarly, past studies have found substantial gaps in legal knowledge not only about legal services, but also more broadly about legal rights, legal remedies and the justice system (ABA 1994; Balmer et al. 2010; Cass & Sackville 1975; Fishwick 1992; HKDOJ 2008; Ignite Research 2006; LSC 2007, 2009; Murayama 2007; Rush 1999; Scott & Sage 2001; Women’s Legal Resources Centre 1994). It has been argued that rudimentary legal knowledge is an essential component of ‘legal capability’ — that is, an essential component of the personal characteristics and competencies that are necessary for an individual to achieve successful legal resolution (Balmer et al. 2010; Felstiner et al. 1981; Genn & Paterson 2001). People must first recognise that they have a problem that has legal aspects. They must also recognise that there are potential legal solutions, and they must have the personal resources or competence to be capable of pursuing a remedy effectively, including adequate literacy, communication skills and perseverance. Thus, like past findings, the present findings suggest that some people’s poor legal knowledge may impede their ability to successfully resolve their legal problems.

51. See Appendix Figures A9.2–A9.5. Note that it is possible that people sometimes incorrectly use the term ‘legal aid’ to refer to not-for-profit legal services such as ALSs and CLCs.

52. ALSs: x2=47.72, F6,123 225=6.55, p=0.000. CLCs: ?2=76.08, F7,144 622=10.45, p=0.000. Court services: x2=287.04, F7,144 615=39.37, p=0.000. Legal Aid: x2=59.49, F7,144 619=8.13, p=0.000. Bonferroni correction applied, significant if p<0.013. See Appendix Figures A9.2–A9.5.

53. NSW is the only jurisdiction where many local court registries have a registrar or deputy registrar available by appointment to provide information and assistance to members of the public on local court procedures and applications. See


Coumarelos, C, Macourt, D, People, J, MacDonald, HM, Wei, Z, Iriana, R & Ramsey, S 2012, Legal Australia-Wide Survey: legal need in Australia, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney