Note: the original hard copy of this report is 350 pages .

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Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas   

, 2006 Six disadvantaged areas were surveyed by telephone interviews: three suburban areas within Sydney (Campbelltown, Fairfield, South Sydney), one major provincial centre (Newcastle) and two rural/remote areas (Nambucca and Walgett)...

Ch 10. Towards improving access to justice: a multidimensional approach

Legal needs cut across many areas of everyday life, and their resolution involves people from many walks of life. However, people have different legal needs. Some have multiple, complex legal needs, while others are more resilient. People also choose different means of handling their legal issues, and some people are less successful than others in resolving their problems. This diversity in experience suggests that a broad-brush, one-size-fits-all approach to accessing justice in the disadvantaged areas surveyed would be less than ideal. No single strategy is likely to be successful in meeting all problems for all people.

Increasingly, thinking on access to justice is moving away from unidimensional strategies that concentrate solely on the provision of easily accessible, high quality reactive legal services. More and more, the emphasis is shifting to multi-pronged approaches that include preventative and proactive strategies in addition to reactive strategies, in an effort to maximise both the appropriate utilisation of the legal system and the efficient targeting of limited resources (e.g. MacDonald 2005; Pleasence et al. 2004b). MacDonald (2005) identifies five waves in thinking about the concept of access to justice which demonstrate its evolution over recent decades:

1. concentrating on equal access to lawyers and courts

2. correcting structural inadequacies within the court and legal aid systems

3. ‘demystifying’ the law through, for example, the plain language movement

4. recognising the importance of preventative law, including the role of alternative dispute resolution, and, more recently

5. developing proactive strategies to empower citizens to access legal education, information and assistance services, and to participate in every institution in which law is created, found, administered, interpreted and applied.

MacDonald (2005) argues that a multidimensional approach to justice enables legal services to be tailored to the needs of individuals. While there is no easy formula for determining in advance what access to justice solution will be most appropriate for any given person, a ‘menu’ of options to accessing justice allows individualised choice.

Supporting a multidimensional approach, the present results suggest a number of reactive, preventative and proactive strategies that could play critical roles in access to justice in the disadvantaged areas surveyed. In particular, such strategies include: