Nambucca LGA is an area where people experienced a reasonably high incidence of legal needs over a one-year period. Approximately 66 per cent of Nambucca participants reported experiencing one or more legal events in the previous 12 months, and approximately 32 per cent reported experiencing three or more legal events. The incidence of legal events for Nambucca LGA was statistically comparable to that reported for the other regions.
The legal events experienced among the Nambucca sub-sample related to a broad range of civil, criminal and family law issues. As with the overall sample, by far the majority of the legal events reported by Nambucca participants fell under the broad heading of civil law, although this was somewhat a function of the structure of the questionnaire. However, the Nambucca participants reported criminal matters at a significantly lower rate than the overall sample. In fact, of the six regions surveyed, Nambucca LGA had the lowest proportion of participants reporting criminal matters. By way of explanation, it may be that the age distribution in this LGA at least in part accounts for the lower rates reported for these type of legal events as people are generally involved in fewer criminal matters as they age past 35 years either as victim (ABS, 2006b) or perpetrator (BOCSAR, 2007b). By contrast, the Nambucca participants reported family matters at a significantly higher rate than the overall sample, the highest proportion reported for all regions. The most commonly reported legal events for the Nambucca LGA were in the 'housing' and 'general crime' legal events groups.
When respondents did take action for their legal problems, help from an adviser was sought for approximately half of the most recent legal events reported, generally only from one source. Similar to other regions, Nambucca participants most often source their help through their own personal knowledge and personal networks. In the majority of cases, help was sought from non-legal advisers such as friends, relatives or non-legal professionals. Further, for a large proportion it was non-legal advice that was provided. Among the Nambucca respondents who did not take action about their legal problems, the most important reason provided was 'seeking help would make no difference or make things worse'.
In general, the majority of Nambucca participants experienced no difficulties with getting assistance for their legal problems. However, although in the minority, a number Nambucca residents participating in the current survey reported experiencing some difficulty in getting through to an adviser on the telephone, the most common barrier for all regions. Further, it appears that the majority of Nambucca participants had to travel slightly further for their legal assistance than participants from the metropolitan or regional LGAs included in the survey: in approximately 19 per cent of events they reported travelling over 20 kilometres for assistance. Despite these, satisfaction was high for the sole or most useful adviser, with over 80 per cent of Nambucca participants were satisfied with the help they received.
The above findings and those from the overall report (Coumarelos et al. 2006) suggest that different strategies may be required to promote justice through legal services. The substantial rates of people doing nothing for their legal problems, because of a view that seeking help would make no difference or make things worse, show the importance of enhancing the general knowledge about how legal processes could assist them to resolve issues. This could be achieved through proactive information and education to increase public awareness about their legal needs and the available pathways for legal resolution. The observation that people go to non-legal advisers when they have legal problems suggests there may be benefit in raising the general level of legal literacy among the community at large, to enable the use of non-legal professionals as effective gateways to available legal services (Coumarelos et al. 2006). Finally, difficulty getting through to an adviser on the telephone may indicate the need to improve the accessibility of legal services through more resources, extended availability of services and additional legal services to ensure that legal services can react quickly and effectively to resolve legal problems in rural areas. Communication and information technologies (hotlines, video conferencing facility and internet website) may also reduce the barriers of distance to restore access to legal services in regional and rural areas.