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Research Report: Pathways to justice: the role of non-legal services, Justice issues paper 1
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Pathways to justice: the role of non-legal services, Justice issues paper 1  ( 2007 )  Cite this report



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Challenges for non-legal services


While non-legal services are often the 'first port of call' for legal information or assistance, non-legal services and workers — particularly those supporting clients with complex legal and other needs — face a number of challenges in assisting clients to meet their legal needs, including:
  • limited resources available to provide this assistance
  • varying capacity of workers and services to assist clients with legal problems
  • confusion about the appropriate level of assistance to provide
  • knowing where to refer people with legal problems.

Resourcing

Some services reported that providing the level of assistance that clients with legal problems require, was beyond their resource capacity. Non-profit agencies may experience a tension between the desire to provide appropriate services and the lack of adequate resources to deliver these services.29 Services and workers may find themselves doing work for which they are not funded, paid or trained. One nonlegal homelessness service commented:

    Well, we actually keep ourselves short in the office department by sending people out to appointments with Centrelink or legal or any appointment so that's the way to give them their cases, we do the same. We're certainly not funded to do that, we don't have the capacity to do that.30

It was also reported that non-legal agencies are not always funded to provide the level of assistance required by people with a mental illness who have a legal problem. Workers suggested that the level of assistance services could provide these clients had reduced as a result of the current levels of funding experienced by mental health care services generally.31

The capacity of services to assist clients with legal problems

Lack of knowledge of legal issues and sources of assistance among frontline non-legal workers will affect the quality of the information and referrals that non-legal services can provide. Consultations with service providers suggest that the level of knowledge among non-legal workers and organisations about what information/advice they can or cannot give, and where to refer clients with legal problems, varies considerably with some non-legal agencies lacking sufficient legal knowledge to effectively assist clients with legal problems.32 High staff turnover within services that support and assist disadvantaged people can make it difficult to keep all non-legal workers informed and up-to-date in relation to relevant legal information and legal services.33 Furthermore, the Gateways to the Law study reported that 'knowledge of other agencies appeared to be gained on the job and in an ad hoc way'.34

While some workers may benefit from more appropriate and formal training, some participants commented that many community organisations do not have room in their budget to provide training for staff and that staff do not have the time to attend training sessions.35

Confusion about the level of assistance to provide It can be difficult for workers to know what they can and can't do for clients with legal problems. For instance, while non-legal workers can pass on legal 'information' (e.g. give out a brochure), many are told — for good reasons — that they cannot give legal 'advice'. In reality the boundaries between these two are blurred. Some non-legal workers interviewed reported a tension between what the worker is allowed to do and the desire to respond to clients' needs. Workers reported feeling stressed about providing legal information, doubting their own knowledge, fearing that it may cross the boundary to 'advice' or may be inaccurate in some way.36 These concerns may prevent some non-legal workers from providing any kind of assistance to clients with legal problems.

Inappropriate referral

As discussed earlier, individuals will often not go to more than one assistance agency, making appropriate referral from the first agency essential. Some legal services reported that they had received inappropriate referrals from other services and that referred clients were 'often confused and frustrated when they did not receive the service they expected'.37 Some non-legal services reported difficulty referring clients to legal assistance because an appropriate legal service was not available. Participants in the public consultations for the A2JLN program also commented on the level of funding to Legal Aid NSW and Community Legal Centres (CLCs) as affecting both referral options and the level of assistance services are able to offer on receiving a referred client.38



Gateways to the Law, p. 55.
No Home, No Justice?, p. 213.
On the Edge of Justice, pp. 180 to 181.
No Home, No Justice? p. 205.
Access to Justice Roundtable: Proceedings of a Workshop, edited and compiled by the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, 2002, p. 106.
Gateways to the Law, p. 101.
Access to Justice Roundtable, p. 106.
No Home, No Justice?, p. 202, Gateways to the Law, pp. 55, 57.
Gateways to the Law, p. 98, p 58.
Public Consultations, p. 33.

29  Gateways to the Law, p. 55.
30  No Home, No Justice?, p. 213.
31  On the Edge of Justice, pp. 180 to 181.
32  No Home, No Justice? p. 205.
33  Access to Justice Roundtable: Proceedings of a Workshop, edited and compiled by the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, 2002, p. 106.
34  Gateways to the Law, p. 101.
35  Access to Justice Roundtable, p. 106.
36  No Home, No Justice?, p. 202, Gateways to the Law, pp. 55, 57.
37  Gateways to the Law, p. 98, p 58.
38  Public Consultations, p. 33.


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Clarke, S & Forell, S 2007, Pathways to justice: the role of non-legal services, Justice issues paper 1, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney