Gaps in data collection
The data have been collected by the agencies for their internal administrative purposes, and not with research of this nature in mind. It is not surprising, therefore, that for the purposes of this research, there are a number of gaps in the data collected. Most notably, the collection of demographic data varies across services. There are also imperfections in collection procedures and inconsistencies in the application of protocols leading to a substantial percentage of missing data in some cases.
Consistency across services
In the interests of standardising data from all sources, we have attempted to map variables to common sets of categories. The integrity of our process rests on the integrity of the collection and classification processes of each service. There are, however, wide variations in how the services collected and classified data. At the most obvious level, some inquiries are described as ‘civil’ or ‘criminal’ or ‘family’ with no further detail. Thus, even at the major law classification level, we are dependent on what a service regards as belonging to each broad category of law.
Even if all services used the same definitions for data collection, and made no mistakes in collection procedures, it is not possible to aggregate the data meaningfully to provide accurate indicators of total expressed legal need in the community. This is due to the effect of an unknown incidence of ‘double counting’. One person may approach a service a number of times or contact a range of services to seek help. Without a major redesign of collection protocols, there is no way of tagging the inquiries of any one person seeking assistance so as to distinguish him or her from other once-off inquirers.