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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

10. A holistic approach to justice



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Tailoring services for specific demographic groups


The LAW Survey findings across jurisdictions demonstrate considerable diversity in the experience, handling and resolution of legal problems according to demographic status.(61) This diversity suggests the value of tailoring legal services to meet the specific legal needs of different demographic groups. As noted earlier, strategies tailored to address the specific issues faced by particular groups at particular times are often more effective than one-size-fits-all education strategies (Balmer et al. 2010; Barendrecht 2011; Buck et al. 2008; Combined Community Legal Centres Group NSW 2004; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2000; Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria 2010; Flowers et al. 2001; Giddings & Robertson 2003b; Goldie 1997; Hunter et al. 2009; Kirby 2011; Lawler et al. 2009; Macdonald 2005; PLEAS Task Force 2007; Plenet 2009, n.d.; Scott & Sage 2001). In addition, the present findings suggest that disadvantaged groups may often require more intensive, integrated assistance and support to achieve legal resolution.

Age

Age was usually and often strongly related to the prevalence of legal problems, the strategies used to resolve them and whether or not they had been finalised. In most jurisdictions, the prevalence of legal problems overall was at peak or near peak levels at 35–44 years of age.(62) Across jurisdictions, the oldest group had low prevalence of legal problems overall, substantial legal problems and multiple legal problems. In addition, in all jurisdictions, there was a ‘stages of life’ effect whereby different age groups experienced different types of legal problems.

Furthermore, age affected strategy. Across jurisdictions, age was related to the likelihood of taking action or the likelihood of seeking advice when action was taken or both. In a number of jurisdictions, the younger and oldest groups had low levels of taking action, while the middle age groups had higher levels.(63) In addition, younger people were less likely to seek advice when they took action in most jurisdictions.(64) In Australia as a whole, the effect for taking action was significant. The oldest group was significantly less likely to take action than most middle age groups. In addition, the youngest group (15–17 year olds) had levels of taking action that were similar to the low levels of the oldest group. However, unlike the trend in most jurisdictions, the oldest group had significantly lower levels of taking action than the second youngest group (18–24 year olds). The effect for seeking advice was also significant. Younger people were significantly less likely to seek advice when they took action.

Finally, in most jurisdictions, younger people had high levels of finalising their legal problems.(65) This effect was significant in Australia as a whole.

The reason for the lower reporting levels by older people is unclear. Older people may actually have a lower prevalence of legal problems because their life circumstances are less likely to expose them to legal problems or because they are better able, through experience, to deal with issues before they escalate (Pleasence et al. 2004c). However, the lower reporting by older people may also partly reflect a failure to identify legal needs, for reasons such as a decrease in the importance placed on problems or an increased ignorance of personal circumstances (Pleasence et al. 2004c). Qualitative research identified older people as having particular types of legal needs, due to their unique life circumstances, such as their low income and increased health needs (Ellison et al. 2004). In addition, older people often ignored their legal problems and were reluctant to complain about them. Older people have also been found to have poor understanding of their legal rights and avenues for legal redress (Ellison et al. 2004; Tilse, Setterlund, Wilson & Herd 2002). Thus, specialised information and education strategies for older people may be useful in helping them to recognise and deal effectively with legal problems (e.g. Ellison et al. 2004).

The age-related experience of legal problems suggests that there may be benefits to tailoring legal information, education and advice strategies for different age groups, to address the types of legal problems typically faced at various life stages (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Dignan 2006; Macdonald 2005; Pleasence 2006). Age-tailored initiatives have been adopted in other areas, such as in the area of financial services, where banking, superannuation and insurance schemes are customised to the typical needs of different age groups (e.g. Brennan 2000; Datamonitor 2003; Department of Family and Community Services 2005). Legal information and education strategies could similarly be targeted according to the types of legal problems that tend to peak at different ages, communicated in an age-appropriate form and disseminated via age-accessible pathways. For example, high schools could be pathways for delivering legal information and education to young people on the types of legal problems their age groups typically face, such as problems related to criminal activity, accidents and personal injury, and rented housing (Coumarelos et al. 2006). Pre-natal classes may be useful avenues for disseminating information on the legal issues that predominate for parents of young families, such as family, credit/debt and housing issues (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Pleasence et al. 2004c). Older people have been found to have particular legal information-seeking behaviours and needs (Edwards & Fontana 2004). Legal advice and assistance services could also be tailored to the particular legal needs of different age groups. For example, specialist legal services for specific age groups, such as younger people or older people, may be of value in geographical regions that include large populations of those age groups (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Ellison et al. 2004). Again, such specialist services could use age-appropriate communication and could focus on overcoming the specific barriers to accessing justice faced by the client group (Ellison et al. 2004).

Given that, as noted above, younger and older people were less likely to take action to resolve their legal problems in some jurisdictions, information and education initiatives could target these age groups to help empower them to identify their legal needs and take steps towards resolution. The finding that younger people were more likely to handle problems without seeking advice when they took action in most jurisdictions(66) suggests that this age group may also benefit from information and education strategies that signpost them to advice services. Enhancing young people’s awareness of advice services would help to ensure that they are able to seek expert advice whenever this would be useful and do not rely on less optimal strategies due to a lack of knowledge about avenues for assistance.

Finally, the higher levels of finalisation for younger respondents in most jurisdictions(67) suggest that middle-aged and older respondents may benefit from greater levels of assistance or support in order to resolve their legal problems successfully.

Gender

Like past surveys, the present study did not reveal strong, consistent relationships between gender and the prevalence of legal problems. In most jurisdictions, gender was not significantly related to the prevalence of legal problems overall, substantial legal problems or multiple legal problems.(68) However, males had elevated levels of problems from a few of the 12 problem groups in most jurisdictions. Each of the following types of legal problems was elevated for males in at least three jurisdictions: consumer, credit/debt, crime, government, money and personal injury problems. In Australia as a whole, males had significantly higher prevalence of problems from all of these problem groups, and females had significantly higher prevalence of health problems.

Gender was significantly related to finalisation status only in Western Australia and was not significantly related to favourability of outcome in any jurisdiction. However, gender was more reliably related to strategy across jurisdictions. Males were less likely to take action in most jurisdictions and less likely to seek advice when they took action in a few jurisdictions. Both of these gender effects for strategy were significant in Australia as a whole. Thus, males may benefit from information and education campaigns that encourage them to take appropriate action for their legal problems, including appropriately seeking advice. They may also benefit from legal services targeted for men.

Disadvantaged groups

Disadvantaged groups(69) were typically vulnerable to a wide range of legal problems, sometimes ignored these problems and sometimes struggled to achieve resolution. They also often have a variety of non-legal needs. Thus, the present findings reinforce the argument that holistic access to justice for disadvantaged people must be a priority and is likely to be a critical pathway to tackling social exclusion (e.g. Buck et al. 2005; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Forell et al. 2005; Maxwell et al. 1999; Pleasence 2006; Sandefur 2007, 2008).

As already discussed, past research has suggested that disadvantaged people tend to have poor legal capability, including poor legal knowledge, literacy and communication skills, which can sometimes limit their ability to achieve legal resolution without expert assistance. For example, they may have difficulty identifying and using self-help strategies, and they may have difficulty accessing, comprehending and acting on legal information and legal advice, including hardcopy and online information, and telephone advice (Balmer et al. 2010; Buck et al. 2008; Giddings & Robertson 2001, 2003a; Hunter et al. 2007; Jones 2010; Lawler et al. 2009; Pearson & Davis 2002).

Given their multiple, often serious legal and non-legal needs, as well as their low levels of legal capability, it has been argued that disadvantaged people can require intensive assistance and support to achieve successful legal resolution. For example, they may sometimes benefit from high-quality face-to-face legal advice, and from a coordinated legal and non-legal response to their multiple problems (Buck et al. 2007, 2008, 2009; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Forell et al. 2005; Forell & Gray 2009; Genn & Paterson 2001; Giddings & Robertson 2001; Grunseit et al. 2008; Hunter et al. 2007; Karras et al. 2006; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2007a, 2007b, 2007c). In addition, the typically low economic status of disadvantaged groups dictates that appropriately intensive and integrated service delivery for these groups would ideally be free or low cost. It has been argued that effective public legal services are vital for disadvantaged groups to be able to access legal advice and assistance at the same frequency as other people (Currie 2007a; Genn 1999; Genn & Paterson 2001). Given that a large portion of the legal problems experienced by the community are concentrated within disadvantaged groups, quality public legal services constitute a critical component of a holistic justice system, providing the backbone infrastructure necessary to support integrated and multifaceted access to justice strategies.

In addition to the above generic strategies to facilitate access to justice for disadvantaged groups, the LAW Survey results suggest the additional benefit of tailoring legal services to the particular needs of different disadvantaged groups. As discussed below, there were some notable differences in the present results for different disadvantaged groups.

Disability

People with a disability stood out as the disadvantaged group that most reliably had high prevalence of legal problems according to a variety of measures. Typically, they had high prevalence of legal problems overall, substantial legal problems, multiple legal problems and problems from most problem groups. These relationships with prevalence were usually among the strongest.(70) Disability was also related to strategy. In most jurisdictions, people with a disability were the only disadvantaged group that had high levels of taking action, high levels of seeking advice when they took action, or both. They were also the only disadvantaged group that had low levels of finalisation in most jurisdictions. In Australia as a whole, all of these associations of disability status with prevalence, strategy and finalisation status were significant.

Past studies have also reliably linked disability to a wide range of legal problems (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Pleasence 2006). Like the present survey, Coumarelos et al. (2006) identified people with a disability as the most vulnerable of the demographic groups examined. Thus, meeting the legal needs of people with a disability must be an important policy objective (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Coumarelos & Wei 2009; Currie 2007a; O’Grady et al. 2004; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2004a, 2004c). Well-coordinated legal services, including more holistic, client-focused or case management approaches, may be useful in addressing the wide variety of legal problems that these people tend to face.

People with a disability often have many non-legal needs in addition to their legal needs. They tend to suffer multiple types of disadvantage, such as poverty, poor housing, unemployment and crime victimisation, and, consequently, they have been described as the ‘most socially excluded’ of all disadvantaged groups (ABS 2004a, 2004c; Howard 1999; O’Grady et al. 2004; Pleasence 2006). It has been argued that the link between disability and legal problems is bidirectional. Not only are people with a disability more likely to experience legal problems by virtue of their disadvantaged status, but the impact of their legal problems may further entrench their social exclusion (Coumarelos et al. 2006; O’Grady et al. 2004; Pleasence 2006). The multiple legal and non-legal problems faced by people with a disability indicate that they may require both legal assistance and broader non-legal support in order to achieve complete resolution of their legal problems. Notably, the coordination of legal and health services has been advocated to address their combined legal and health needs (Balmer et al. 2006; Coumarelos & Wei 2009; Pleasence et al. 2004c). Given that their legal and other needs can span many life areas, people with a disability may also benefit from additional human services, such as financial, housing, welfare, social and family services.

The lower levels of finalisation for people with a disability in most jurisdictions(71) indicate that they may have a reduced capacity to achieve legal resolution. A number of factors could contribute to this reduced capacity. First, this reduced capacity may reflect lower legal capability due to poor knowledge about legal rights and remedies, as identified by other research (Balmer et al. 2010). Second, the reduced capacity for finalisation may also reflect lower legal capability due to poorer literacy levels and communication skills, which are often issues for disadvantaged groups (ABS 2008a). Third, this reduced capacity may partly reflect that people with a disability have high rates of a broad range of often substantial legal problems. Facing many legal problems, often of a severe nature, concurrently or proximately, may strain their personal resources for solving each problem (Coumarelos et al. 2006). Finally, the health and other non-legal needs of people with a disability may also complicate the legal resolution process (ABS 2004a, 2004b). Whatever the reason, the reduced finalisation rates of people with a disability reinforce the conclusion that they may require considerable legal and non-legal support in order to address their legal problems effectively (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Coumarelos & Wei 2009). In addition, the possibility that they have poor legal knowledge suggests that they may benefit from information and education initiatives that help them to identify legal problems and direct them to relevant legal services.

The present finding that people with a disability were more likely to seek advice when they took action in some jurisdictions(72) is in keeping with past surveys (Balmer et al. 2010; Currie 2007b). This finding may partly reflect that they have advisers whom they routinely consult about their health and other non-legal needs and, as a result, may turn to these established advisers when legal problems arise (Coumarelos & Wei 2009). However, it is also possible that they tend to seek advice for their legal problems precisely because they find it difficult to handle these problems alone, without assistance. For example, Balmer et al. (2010) showed that disadvantaged groups that had poor legal knowledge, including people with a disability, tended to achieve poor outcomes when they handled their legal problems alone. The tendency of people with a disability to seek advice further underscores the value of this group being signposted to appropriate, quality legal and non-legal assistance in order to achieve satisfactory legal resolution.

Single parenthood

Single parents reliably had increased prevalence of legal problems according to a number of measures. Typically, single parents were more vulnerable to legal problems overall, substantial legal problems and multiple legal problems. They also had increased vulnerability to problems from at least a few problem groups in most jurisdictions, and, unsurprisingly, had particularly high prevalence of family problems in all jurisdictions. They had high levels of seeking advice when they took action and low levels of finalisation in a few jurisdictions. In Australia as a whole, single parents had significantly higher prevalence according to numerous measures, significantly higher levels of seeking advice when they took action and significantly lower levels of finalisation.

Past surveys have similarly found single parents to be among the demographic groups most vulner­able to legal problems, and meeting their legal needs has been identified as a priority (Buck et al. 2004; Currie 2007b; Dignan 2006; Moorhead et al. 2004; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2010). Single parents, like people with a disability, have been identified as a group that often experiences multiple disadvantage, such as poverty, poor housing and disability (ABS 2004a, 2006a, 2010b; Australian Government 2009b; Buck et al. 2004; Hayes et al. 2008; Headey 2006; Vinson 2009). It has been argued that the changes in personal circumstances that result from family breakdown, such as changes in family, economic and housing circumstances, can leave lone parents particularly vulnerable to a range of further problems that constitute elements of social exclusion (Pleasence 2006). Given their multiple legal and non-legal problems, single parents are likely to benefit from a more holistic or client-focused approach, such as a coordinated response from both legal services and other human services.

The findings that single parents tended to have higher levels of seeking advice when they took action(73) and lower levels of finalisation(74) in a few jurisdictions suggest that they may sometimes have a reduced capacity for resolving their legal problems, particularly without recourse to external advice. This possibility further emphasises the benefit of good coordination between legal and non-legal services to ensure that this group can be provided with the broader support necessary to achieve complete solutions for their problems. This possibility also stresses the potential value of information and education initiatives that help to direct single parents to the most suitable services.

Unemployment

Unemployed people had high prevalence of legal problems overall, substantial legal problems and multiple legal problems in most jurisdictions. They also had high prevalence of problems from at least one problem group in each jurisdiction. In terms of the strategies used in response to legal problems, unemployed people had low levels of taking action in only one jurisdiction. However, when they took action, they had low levels of seeking advice and high levels of handling problems without advice in most jurisdictions. In Australia as a whole, unemployed people had significantly higher prevalence according to numerous measures, significantly lower levels of taking action and significantly lower levels of seeking advice when they took action. Employment status was generally unrelated to finalisation levels. The only significant relationship was in Western Australia, where unemployed people had significantly lower levels of finalisation.

Unemployment, and especially long-term unemployment, is another demographic characteristic that is linked to multiple disadvantage (ABS 2004a; Cobb-Clarke & Leigh 2009; Gray et al. 2009). Furthermore, past legal needs surveys, and the present findings in Queensland and the Northern Territory, suggest that legal problems with employment can trigger further legal problems, such as credit and debt problems (Currie 2007b; Genn 1999; Pleasence 2006). Thus, unemployed people can face multiple legal and non-legal needs and may benefit from well-coordinated legal and non-legal services. In addition, the low levels of taking action and seeking advice found for unemployed people in some jurisdictions suggest that information and education initiatives may be beneficial in mobilising them to take action and in directing them to relevant advice services.

Disadvantaged housing

People living in disadvantaged housing had increased prevalence of substantial legal problems and multiple legal problems in most jurisdictions. They also had increased prevalence of legal problems overall in some jurisdictions and increased prevalence of problems from a few problem groups in each jurisdiction. In addition, they had low levels of finalisation in a few jurisdictions. However, housing type was not significantly related to strategy in any jurisdiction. In Australia as a whole, people living in disadvantaged housing had significantly higher prevalence according to numerous measures and significantly lower levels of finalisation.

Unemployed people and single parents are more likely than other people to live in disadvantaged housing (ABS 2004a), which suggests that people living in disadvantaged housing may sometimes have non-legal needs in addition to their legal needs. Again, coordinated legal and non-legal services may be beneficial for people living in disadvantaged housing. Their low levels of finalisation in a few jurisdictions suggest that they may require considerable support in order to achieve legal resolution and may benefit from initiatives that help to signpost them to the most relevant services. The findings also suggest that public housing authorities could be gateways to legal services for people living in disadvantaged housing. For example, public housing authorities could disseminate basic legal information, such as information on useful first ports of call for legal advice (cf. Clarke & Forell 2007).

Indigenous background

Although Indigenous status was generally unrelated to the prevalence of legal problems overall or substantial legal problems, Indigenous people had increased prevalence of multiple legal problems and problems from a few legal problem groups in most jurisdictions. The problem groups with elevated risk for Indigenous people in at least one jurisdiction were the crime, government, health and rights problem groups. Indigenous status was related to strategy only in the Northern Territory, where Indigenous people had lower levels of taking action. Furthermore, Indigenous people had lower levels of finalisation in Australia as a whole, but not in any state/territory. Thus, in most jurisdictions, there were usually no more than a few significant associations involving Indigenous status. In Australia as a whole, there were five significant associations involving Indigenous status. Indigenous people had high prevalence of multiple legal problems and government, health and rights problems. They also had low levels of finalisation.

It is well established that Indigenous people are among the most disadvantaged Australians, tending to suffer multiple disadvantage (ABS 2004a, 2009e; Cunneen & Schwartz 2008; Hunter 2009; SCRGSP 2007). The present increased prevalence of multiple legal problems for Indigenous people and their reduced levels of taking action and achieving finalisation are consistent with their disadvantaged status. However, given their level of disadvantage, it is noteworthy that the present study did not find a greater number of significant associations involving Indigenous status. Various methodological issues may have reduced the ability to detect such associations. First, the small numbers of Indigenous respondents in most jurisdictions may have militated against obtaining significant results. However, this argument is less applicable to the Northern Territory, given the higher proportion of Indigenous respondents in the sample for this jurisdiction (12% versus 3% or less in other jurisdictions).(75) Second, the survey underestimated the level of Indigenous disadvantage, because it could not include the particularly disadvantaged Indigenous people who live without landline telephone access, such as many in remote communities (Hunter & Smith 2000; Papandrea 2010).(76) Underestimating Indigenous disadvantage is of heightened importance in the Northern Territory, given both the higher proportion of Indigenous people in the population (ABS 2007b) and the higher proportion of Indigenous people without landline telephone access in remote areas (Australian Communications and Media Authority 2008). Third, age may have masked relationships involving Indigenous status, given that Indigenous people have relatively shorter life spans than other Australians (ABS & AIHW 2010; SCRGSP 2007). Finally, culturally sensitive protocols for interviewing Indigenous people are sometimes used to enhance self-identification of Indigenous background, full disclosure and confidence in data quality (e.g. ABS 2011b; Hunter & Smith 2000). Unfortunately, it was beyond the scope of the LAW Survey to adopt such specialised interviewing protocols for Indigenous and other ethnic minorities, and, again, this may have affected the results.

Nonetheless, given their disadvantaged status and tendency to experience multiple legal problems in most jurisdictions,(77) Indigenous people are likely to benefit from a more holistic or client-focused approach to their problems, including a coordinated response across legal and other human services. Furthermore, the lower levels of finalisation for Indigenous people in Australia as a whole suggest that they may sometimes have a reduced capacity to achieve legal resolution and may require considerable legal and non-legal support to do so successfully. Given that methodological issues may be responsible for the failure to reach significance in some jurisdictions, the potential value of such initiatives in all jurisdictions is worth considering.

Finally, the high levels of inaction by Indigenous respondents in the Northern Territory suggest that they may benefit from initiatives that help to mobilise them to take action and encourage them to access appropriate legal and non-legal services. The high levels of inaction among Indigenous respondents in the Northern Territory were not due to low awareness of ALSs, suggesting that other constraints contributed to inaction. For example, the particular systemic, social, cultural and geographical disadvantages often experienced by Indigenous people make providing effective and culturally appropriate legal services a funding challenge (see Cunneen & Schwartz 2008; SLCRC 2004). Social pressure to handle legal problems within Indigenous communities has been argued to be one factor that contributes to the low use of Indigenous legal services across Australia (JCPAA 2005). Overcoming any social and cultural constraints to taking action within Indigenous communities may be assisted by information and education initiatives about the potential benefits of legal resolution, and also by initiatives that help to ensure Indigenous legal services are culturally appropriate. For example, the employment of Indigenous staff, cross-cultural education and wider availability of Indigenous interpreters may enhance the cultural sensitivity of Indigenous legal services (see Cunneen & Schwartz 2008; Schetzer & Henderson 2003). Again, the value of similar Indigenous initiatives in all jurisdictions should not be ruled out, given that methodological factors may explain why the Indigenous finding for taking action was significant only in the Northern Territory. However, another possible explanation is that there may be differences in the Indigenous populations across Australia in terms of the legal problems experienced, the level of disadvantage, or other demographic or cultural characteristics. For example, there is evidence that Indigenous people in the Northern Territory are more disadvantaged than other Indigenous Australians in terms of education, labour force participation, household income, home ownership, and suicide and homicide rates (SCRGSP 2007).

Reducing multiple disadvantage for Indigenous people is a whole-of-government goal in Australia. For example, the National Integrated Strategy for Closing the Gap in Indigenous Disadvantage outlines targets for reducing disadvantage in the areas of life expectancy, early childhood, health, education and employment. A multitude of small-scale initiatives have been introduced at the national and state/territory level to address these targets (Department of Families Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) 2011).(78) Although such initiatives often extend to disadvantage in access to justice, they tend to focus on criminal rather than civil justice, given the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system (ABS 2011d; SCRGSP 2007; Snowball & Weatherburn 2006).(79) In fact, it has been observed that ALSs across Australia tend to focus on criminal law matters, and there is a paucity of Indigenous legal services for family and civil law (Cunneen & Schwartz 2008; JCPAA 2005; SLCRC 2004). The present results more firmly entrench civil and family legal needs among the multiple legal needs that should be addressed for Indigenous people. The results suggest that the scope of ALSs needs to be broad enough to comprehensively address criminal, family and civil law needs. They suggest that multidisciplinary initiatives that aim to reduce Indigenous disadvantage should also include the aim of increasing legal capability and effectively meeting legal needs in all areas of law, including civil and family law.

Low education levels

Unlike most other disadvantaged groups, people with low education levels tended to report low rather than high prevalence of legal problems. In all jurisdictions, they reported low prevalence of legal problems overall and low prevalence of problems from several problem groups. They also reported low prevalence of substantial legal problems and multiple legal problems in some jurisdictions. In addition, education was related to strategy. People with low education levels constituted one of the two disadvantaged groups that typically had high levels of inaction in most jurisdictions. Furthermore, they had low levels of seeking advice when they took action in some jurisdic­tions. In Australia as a whole, all of these prevalence and strategy effects were significant. Although people with low education levels had significantly lower levels of finalisation in Australia as a whole, education was not consistently related to finalisation status at the state/territory level.(80)

The present low reporting of legal problems by people with low education levels is consistent with past findings (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Pleasence 2006; van Velthoven & Klein Haarhuis 2010; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004). The reason for these low reporting levels is unclear. First, these levels may accurately reflect low prevalence, due to less opportunity to experience certain problems, such as less opportunity to participate in various economic activities. Second, these levels may reflect a failure to recognise legal problems, due to poor legal knowledge or an unwillingness to admit to legal problems (see Balmer et al. 2010; Buck et al. 2008; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Genn & Paterson 2001). Thus, people with low education levels may benefit from information and education initiatives aimed at increasing their legal literacy, so that they can readily identify legal problems and relevant legal advice services. Third, it is also possible that people with low education levels tend to ignore their legal problems, because they have other more pressing needs. This possibility suggests that they may require broad legal and non-legal support to address all of their needs.

The high levels of inaction for people with low education levels in most jurisdictions(81) are also consistent with past surveys (Currie 2007b; LSNJ 2009; Pleasence 2006; van Velthoven & ter Voert 2004). These findings reinforce the potential benefits of initiatives to increase legal capability within this disadvantaged group, and to empower this group to obtain legal assistance when it would be helpful to do so.

Non-English main language

Apart from people with low education levels, people with a non-English main language were the only other disadvantaged group that reported low rather than high prevalence of legal problems according to at least one measure in most jurisdictions. In addition, like education, main language was related to strategy. People with a non-English main language had high levels of inaction in most jurisdictions, and they occasionally had low levels of seeking advice when they took action. They also had low levels of finalisation in two jurisdictions. In Australia as a whole, people with a non-English main language had significantly lower prevalence according to most measures, and the findings for strategy and finalisation status were also significant.(82) As noted earlier, NSW and Victoria had the greatest number of significant associations involving main language, and these were the two jurisdictions that had the largest proportions of LAW Survey respondents whose main language was not English.(83) Small numbers in other states/territories may have militated against a greater number of significant associations in these jurisdictions. Census data similarly suggest that NSW and Victoria have relatively high proportions of people from a non-English-speaking background.(84) The fewer significant relationships in the Northern Territory may also reflect the fact that the composition of the territory’s non-English-speaking population is quite different from that of the other jurisdictions. The Northern Territory is the only state/territory where Indigenous people comprise a large proportion of the non-English-speaking population (ABS 2007a).(85)

Only a few past legal needs surveys, including two surveys in Australia, have specifically compared legal problem prevalence rates for English and non-English speakers. Like the present survey, these studies generally found low reporting levels for people from a non-English-speaking background (Coumarelos et al. 2006; Dale 2007; Fishwick 1992). Although past studies have generally not examined the specific relationship between strategy and main language, strategy has been linked to other measures of ethnicity. Consistent with the present findings, some past studies have found low levels of taking action or seeking advice for ethnic minority groups (Currie 2007b; Fishwick 1992; Pleasence 2006; Pleasence et al. 2004c).

Given that the present findings for people with a non-English main language were very similar to those for people with low education levels, the policy implications are also similar. Again, although the low reported levels of legal problems may accurately reflect low prevalence, they may instead reflect a failure to recognise legal problems, due to poor legal knowledge or an unwillingness to admit to legal problems (cf. ALRC 1992; Balmer et al. 2010; Buck et al. 2008; Cass & Sackville 1975; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Genn & Paterson 2001). Thus, non-English-speaking groups may benefit from information and education initiatives aimed at raising their levels of legal literacy, so that they can readily identify legal problems and can be directed to appropriate advice services. The possibility that non-English-speaking people tend to ignore their legal problems may reflect more pressing non-legal needs, which suggests that broad legal and non-legal support may be beneficial in addressing all of their needs. This possibility also suggests the potential benefits of initiatives to increase legal capability among non-English-speaking people and to empower them to obtain legal assistance when they need it. In addition, culturally sensitive services and the availability of language translation services or services in relevant languages are likely to reduce the barriers to obtaining advice for ethnic minority groups (Pleasence 2006). The failure to obtain significant findings in some jurisdictions for main language should not be taken to imply that initiatives aiming to assist non-English speakers with the identification and resolution of their legal problems would be of no value in these jurisdictions. This failure may often reflect the small sample numbers rather than any inherent differences in the needs of non-English-speaking groups between jurisdictions.

Government payments

Main income was not significantly related to the prevalence of legal problems overall in any jurisdiction. In addition, main language was not significantly related to the prevalence of substantial legal problems and multiple legal problems in most jurisdictions. However, in most jurisdictions, main income was related to the prevalence of problems from a few problem groups. These relationships indicated that people whose main source of income was government payments experienced different types of legal problems from other respondents. People on government payments tended to experience legal problems that appeared to reflect their socioeconomic disadvantage. These problems included family problems, government problems related to the receipt of government payments, health problems and rights problems related to discrimination and unfair treatment by police. In contrast, other respondents tended to experience legal problems that appeared to reflect higher rates of economic activity, economic independence and employment. These problems included consumer problems, employment problems, money problems related to business and investment, and work-related personal injury problems. Main income was generally unrelated to strategy. It was not significantly related to taking action in any jurisdiction, and it had only two significant relationships with seeking advice, which were inconsistent. Finally, people on government payments had low levels of finalisation in only two jurisdictions. In Australia as a whole, the prevalence effects for substantial legal problems and several problem groups were significant. The finalisation effect was also significant.

Like the LAW Survey results in most jurisdictions, past research has found that poorer people experience different types of legal problems from wealthier people, and these problems tend to reflect their disadvantaged status (Buck et al. 2005; Coumarelos et al. 2006; Currie 2007b; Dignan 2006; Pleasence 2006). The present findings in most jurisdictions suggest that government agencies responsible for welfare payments, such as Centrelink and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, could be useful gateways to legal services for people on government payments. In addition, other government agencies that are frequently accessed by people on government payments, such as Medicare, have the potential to be used as gateways. For example, these agencies could be used to disseminate legal information on useful first ports of call for legal advice and on the types of legal problems typically faced by people on government payments (cf. Clarke & Forell 2007).

People on government payments may also have non-legal needs as a result of their multiple disadvantage (Australian Social Inclusion Board 2011; Butterworth 2003; McArthur, Thomson, Winkworth & Butler 2010). Thus, when they experience legal problems, they may benefit from coordinated responses from both legal and non-legal services. Their low levels of finalisation in a couple of jurisdictions further support this argument.

Living in remote areas

Although remote areas in Australia tend to be the most disadvantaged in the country (ABS 2008c), the LAW Survey findings did not reliably reflect greater legal need among people living in remote areas. In all jurisdictions, remoteness of residential area was not significantly related to strategy or finalisation status. In addition, the occasional significant relationships with prevalence did not always indicate higher prevalence for people living in less urban areas or remote areas. Similarly, none of the few significant relationships with favourability of outcome showed worse outcomes for people living in less urban or remote areas. As noted earlier, because Australian jurisdictions vary enormously in their geographical profiles, identical comparisons on remoteness could not be examined across jurisdictions.(86)The distinct geographical compositions of jurisdictions and the small numbers in certain categories of remoteness in some jurisdictions may have contributed to the inconsistent findings.(87) The few past studies that have examined prevalence according to remoteness or urbanisation have similarly produced inconsistent results (cf. Dignan 2006; GKA 2006; Gramatikov 2008; LASNSC 2005; Miller & Srivastava 2002).

61. The present section on ‘Tailoring services for specific demographic groups’ draws on regression analyses conducted in all jurisdictions. These regression results are summarised in Tables 9.2–9.7 in Chapter 9. For full details of the regression analyses, see Chapters 3, 5, 7 and 8 in each LAW Survey report.

62. Based on the percentages in all jurisdictions apart from the Northern Territory, there was a tendency for overall prevalence to peak at 35–44 years. According to significant regression results, 35–44 year olds had peak levels of overall prevalence in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and Australia as a whole.

63. According to the percentages in most jurisdictions, there was a tendency for the younger groups (15–17 and 18–24 year olds) and the oldest group (people aged 65 years or over) to have lower levels of taking action than the middle age groups (25–34, 35–44, 45–54 and 55–64 year olds). The regressions on taking action compared the oldest group to each other age group and found that the oldest group was significantly less likely to take action than some of the middle age groups in four jurisdictions. Note that the regressions did not directly compare the younger groups to the middle age groups. However, the youngest group (15–17 year olds) had the lowest percentages of taking action in all jurisdictions except the ACT.

64. According to the percentages in all jurisdictions, there was a tendency for the two youngest groups to have the lowest or near lowest percentages of seeking advice when they took action. The regressions on seeking advice compared the oldest group to each other age group and found that some of the younger groups were significantly less likely to seek advice when they took action compared to the oldest group in most jurisdictions. The regressions did not directly compare the younger groups to the middle age groups. However, in most jurisdictions, the middle age groups had levels of seeking advice when they took action that were not significantly different to those of the oldest group.

65. The regressions on finalisation status compared the oldest group to each other age group. In most jurisdictions, compared to the oldest group, some of the younger groups had significantly higher levels of finalisation, while the middle age groups had similarly low levels.

66. As already noted, this finding was significant in Australia as a whole.

67. As already noted, this finding was significant in Australia as a whole.

68. In Australia as a whole, however, males had significantly higher prevalence of legal problems overall and multiple legal problems, while females had significantly higher prevalence of substantial legal problems.

69. The LAW Survey examined the following indicators of disadvantage: Indigenous background, disability, low levels of education, unemployment, single parenthood, disadvantaged housing, government payments, non-English main language and living in remote areas. See Appendix A2, ‘Comparison of sample and population profile’ section, and Appendix Table A2.8 for further details.

70. Note that the greater number of significant and often strong relationships for disability than for some of the other indicators of disadvantage may partly reflect measurement issues. Disability was defined as a ‘long-term’ condition that had lasted or was likely to last at least six months. However, there were insufficient numbers in some jurisdictions to similarly isolate long-term disadvantage according to other indicators. For example, inclusion in the unemployed, disadvantaged housing and government payments groups did not require a minimum duration. In addition, in some jurisdictions, the smaller numbers of respondents in some disadvantaged groups (e.g. the smaller numbers of Indigenous people and people living in remote areas) may also have militated against achieving a greater number of significant findings for these disadvantaged groups. Nonetheless, it is possible that the present study may somewhat underestimate the vulnerability of people with a disability, given that people who are most severely restricted by their disabilities are likely to be underrepresented. See Appendix A2, ‘Comparison of sample and population profile: Disability status’ section.

71. As already noted, this finding was significant in Australia as a whole.

72. As already noted, this finding was significant in Australia as a whole.

73. As already noted, this finding was significant in Australia as a whole.

74. As already noted, this finding was significant in Australia as a whole.

75. These percentages are based on weighted numbers. The weighted sample proportion of Indigenous respondents in each jurisdiction was comparable to the Indigenous population proportion except in the Northern Territory, where it was comparable to the population proportion representing Indigenous people with a home landline telephone. For more details, see Appendix A2, ‘Comparison of sample and population profile: Gender, age and Indigenous status’ section in the LAW Survey report for each jurisdiction.

76. Nationally, 34 per cent of all Indigenous households (including 29 per cent of those in non-remote areas and 61 per cent of those in remote areas) did not use a home landline telephone during a one-month period (ABS & AIHW 2010).

77. As already noted, this finding was significant in Australia as a whole.

78. One notable initiative, the Northern Territory Emergency Response, is a broad-scale strategy that is funded by both the Australian and Northern Territory governments (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner 2008).

79. These initiatives include specialised courts, non-custodial sentencing options, rehabilitation programs, juvenile early intervention programs and post-prison release programs (e.g. Allard, Stewart, Chrzanowski, Ogilvie, Birks & Little 2010; Joudo 2008; Marchetti & Daly 2007).

80. The relationship between education and finalisation status was significant only in Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. In addition, these relationships did not consistently show higher finalisation levels for post-school graduates — the group with the highest level of education. Compared to post-school graduates, people who had not finished school had significantly lower levels of finalisation in the Northern Territory and Australia as a whole, whereas people who had finished only Year 12 had significantly higher levels of finalisation in Western Australia. See Table 9.6 for a summary, and see Chapter 7 in each LAW Survey report for full details.

81. As already noted, this finding was significant in Australia as a whole.

82. In Australia as a whole, although people with a non-English main language had significantly lower prevalence according to numerous measures, they had significantly higher prevalence of health problems.

83. Based on weighted sample numbers, this proportion was nine per cent in NSW and Victoria compared to 2–5 per cent in the other jurisdictions. A significance test was not conducted on this comparison.

84. According to the census (ABS 2007a), the proportion of the population aged 15 years or over who speak a non-English language at home and do not speak English very well is 10 per cent in NSW and Victoria compared to only 2–6 per cent in all other states/territories except the Northern Territory. Like NSW and Victoria, the Northern Territory has a relatively high proportion at 11 per cent.

85. People who speak a non-English language include 44 per cent whose main language is an Indigenous language in the Northern Territory compared to less than three per cent in the other states/territories (ABS 2007a). Thus, although, as noted above, the Northern Territory, NSW and Victoria all have a high proportion of people from a non-English-speaking background according to the census (ABS 2007a), only in the Northern Territory does this group include a relatively large percentage of Indigenous people.

86. In Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Australia as a whole, three categories of remoteness were compared: remote, regional and major city. In NSW and Victoria, major city areas were compared to a combined remote/regional category. In Tasmania and the Northern Territory, remote areas were compared to regional areas. Remoteness could not be examined in the ACT, because it is composed almost exclusively of major city areas.

87. In Australia as a whole, people living in remote areas had significantly lower prevalence than people living in major city areas according to two measures. In addition, compared to people living in major city areas, those living in regional areas had both significantly higher and significantly lower prevalence according to various measures and significantly higher levels of favourable outcomes.

  


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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