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On the edge of justice: the legal needs of people with a mental illness  ( 2006 )  Cite this report

Ch 4. Barriers to accessing legal assistance



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Individual barriers to accessing legal assistance


    The clients we get, obviously have enough strength to access some sort of assistance; [however,] there are probably many people out there [who] don’t have the capacity or the strength to try and get assistance.3

Consultations with stakeholders and participants revealed that symptoms or manifestations of a mental illness may affect a person’s ability to access legal services. These symptoms or manifestations included:
  • lack of awareness of legal rights
  • being disorganised
  • being overwhelmed
  • mistrust of service providers
  • difficult behaviour
  • communication problems
  • lack of mental health care.

Legal service providers reported that the degree to which having a mental illness can act as a barrier to accessing legal services will vary according to the individual’s specific circumstances, the severity of their illness, where they are in the cycle of their illness and their particular personality.4

It should also be noted that recent studies, including Genn (2004) and the Foundation’s Bega Valley Pilot Study (2003) and Justice Made to Measure (2006), found that the majority of people don’t access legal services when they have a legal problem.5 This suggests that this may also apply to people with a mental illness.



Consultation with pro bono solicitor, Sydney, September 2004.
Consultation with family law solicitor, October 2004. Also consultations with CLC workers, Kingsford Legal Centre (KLC), August 2004, solicitor, CCLC, August 2004, August 2004, pro bono solicitor, Sydney, September 2004.
H Genn, P Pleasance, N J Balmer, A Buck, A OGrady, Understanding Advice Seeking Behaviour: Further Findings from the LSRC Survey of Justiciable Problems, Legal Services Research Centre, London, 2004, <http://www.lsrc.org.uk/publications/advice.pdf> (accessed March 2006), Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Access to Justice and Legal Needs: A Project to Identify Legal Needs and Barriers for Disadvantaged People in NSW. Stage 2: Quantitative Legal Needs Survey, Bega Valley (Pilot), Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney, 2003, Coumarelos et al., Justice Made to Measure.

 Consultation with pro bono solicitor, Sydney, September 2004.
 Consultation with family law solicitor, October 2004. Also consultations with CLC workers, Kingsford Legal Centre (KLC), August 2004, solicitor, CCLC, August 2004, August 2004, pro bono solicitor, Sydney, September 2004.
 H Genn, P Pleasance, N J Balmer, A Buck, A OGrady, Understanding Advice Seeking Behaviour: Further Findings from the LSRC Survey of Justiciable Problems, Legal Services Research Centre, London, 2004, <http://www.lsrc.org.uk/publications/advice.pdf> (accessed March 2006), Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Access to Justice and Legal Needs: A Project to Identify Legal Needs and Barriers for Disadvantaged People in NSW. Stage 2: Quantitative Legal Needs Survey, Bega Valley (Pilot), Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney, 2003, Coumarelos et al., Justice Made to Measure.


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Karras, M, McCarron, E, Gray, A & Ardasinski, S 2006, On the edge of justice: the legal needs of people with a mental illness in NSW, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney