Note: the original hard copy of this report is 16 pages .

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NSW Legal Needs Survey in disadvantaged areas: South Sydney, Justice issues paper 8   

, 2008 Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas (2006) is the report of a large-scale quantitative study of the legal needs of disadvantaged people in six local government areas of New South Wales. More than 2400 residents across the regions were interviewed about their legal needs. This report was preceded by an initial study Quantitative legal needs survey: Bega Valley (pilot) (2003). There now follows a series of papers in the Justice Issues imprint. Six individual papers will describe how disadvantaged people deal with legal problems, detailing the responses from one of the regions surveyed: Campbelltown, Fairfield, Nambucca, Newcastle, South Sydney and Walgett....


Summary


In summary, the South Sydney sub-sample was similar in many ways to the overall sample interviewed for this survey on legal need. Respondents living in the South Sydney LGA had a high level of legal needs in the 12 months preceding the survey, as did participants from the other regions. While most respondents reported only one issue, many had multiple issues across the broad areas of law of civil, criminal and family law. By far the most common type of legal event experienced in the past 12 months was civil law, although this was somewhat a function of the structure of the questionnaire. For half of the legal events reported, help was sought, although mainly from non-legal advisers such as friends, family or non-legal professionals. In general, people experienced no problems with their advisers, with most of the barriers to obtaining assistance centring on getting in contact or making appointments with their advisers. Correspondingly, satisfaction was high for the sole or most useful adviser with over 81 per cent satisfied with the help they received. Among the 30% or so who did not take action for a legal problem, the main reasons given for doing so were that the problem did not seem serious enough, or they thought seeking help would make no difference or make the problem worse.

There were however, a few points of difference between the South Sydney sub-sample and all regions. South Sydney participants were marginally more likely than the sample overall to report experiencing at least one legal event, and significantly more South Sydney respondents reported three or more events. Specifically, the South Sydney participants were significantly more likely than the general sample to have experienced 'government', 'housing', 'wills and estates' and 'general crime' legal events in the past 12 months.

Although participants from South Sydney sought help at similar rates to the sample in all regions, there did appear to be a difference in the type of legal help sought by the two groups. For example, while both the South Sydney sub-sample and the overall sample used non-legal advisers more frequently than legal advisers, the proportion using legal advisers in South Sydney was significantly greater than the corresponding proportion for all regions. South Sydney participants did not have to travel far for their assistance — in no event did they report travelling over 40 kilometres for assistance. They therefore seemed to be somewhat closer to their legal assistance provider than the average over the six areas included in the survey.

Thus, South Sydney LGA is an area where people experience a high rate of legal events, and where people use legal services to help them with their legal problems. Similar to other regions, South Sydney participants most often source their help through their own personal knowledge and personal networks. However, when compared with all participants, South Sydney participants were even more likely to use an adviser who was a friend or a relative, but less likely to use an adviser they had used before. The data presented here also suggest that their needs are diverse in terms of the kind of assistance they will receive from their advisers. That is, people often receive non-legal assistance when trying to resolve events that have legal implications as well as, or even without, legal advice. However, among those who do seek help, there seems to be a high level of satisfaction with whatever help they obtain. Thus, addressing legal events may require more than just legal advice or representation, but to some degree these needs may be being met in the South Sydney area.

The above findings and those from the overall report (Coumarelos et al. 2006) suggest a range of 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 benefits 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 and extended availability of services. This may ensure that legal services can react quickly and effectively to resolve legal problems.