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

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NSW Legal Needs Survey in disadvantaged areas: Newcastle, Justice issues paper 7   

, 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, Newcastle LGA is an area where people experienced a reasonably high incidence of legal needs over a one year period. Approximately 70 per cent of Newcastle participants reported experiencing one or more legal events in the previous 12 months, and over 30 per cent reported experiencing three or more legal events. Although Newcastle LGA is a regional centre, the incidence of legal events for Newcastle LGA was statistically comparable to that reported for the other regions.

The legal events experienced among the Newcastle sub-sample related to a broad range of civil, criminal and family law issues. As with the overall sample, of the legal events reported, the majority fell under the broad heading of civil law, although this was somewhat a function of the structure of the questionnaire. Commonly reported types of civil law events included consumer (22.5%), housing (20.3%) and accident/injury matters (21.1%). In addition, general crime events were reported by over one quarter of Newcastle participants.

Help from an adviser was sought for approximately half of the most recent legal events reported, generally from only one source and an adviser the participant had used before. Similar to other regions, Newcastle 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. In the majority of cases, help was sought from non-legal advisers such as friends, relatives or non-legal professionals. Therefore unsurprisingly, for a large proportion it was non-legal advice that was received. Among the Newcastle respondents who took no action about their legal problems, the most important reason provided was the respondents did not realise the seriousness of the problem.

In general, Newcastle participants experienced no problems with getting assistance for their legal problems. Correspondingly, satisfaction was high for the sole or most useful adviser, with almost 80 per cent of Newcastle participants satisfied with the help they received. However, although in the minority, Newcastle residents participating in the current survey reported experiencing some delay in getting a response back from an adviser and difficulty getting through to an adviser on the telephone, the two most common barriers to obtaining assistance for all regions. It also appears that of the six regions surveyed, Newcastle LGA had the highest proportion of participants who had to travel to obtain assistance. However, the majority of Newcastle participants did not have to travel more than 20 kilometres for their legal assistance.

The above findings and those from the overall report (Coumarelos et al. 2006) suggest that a range of strategies may be required for promoting justice through legal services. The substantial rates of people doing nothing for their legal problems because they did not realise the seriousness of the problem 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, delay in getting a response back from an adviser and 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. 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 areas.