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Research Report: Access to justice background paper
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Access to justice background paper  ( 2003 )  Cite this report

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The term 'access to justice' means different things to different people. For some, the subject centralises the issue of overcoming the procedural barriers within the court system itself. Such an approach tends to concentrate on issues of overcoming delays within the court process, efficiency, formality and cost of proceedings, and the organisation, structure and administration of courts and tribunals.

Whilst not negating the importance of these issues, the Foundation's project must take a broader view of what is included within the term 'access to justice'. In particular, in considering the issue in terms of the particular needs of socially and economically disadvantaged people, it is necessary for this project to consider the variety of legal services to which disadvantaged people may seek access, the variety of services from which they seek legal assistance, and the preferred methods of resolution which they seek to employ. This will involve a broader investigation than procedural barriers within the court system. However, as stated earlier, the terms will not be interpreted in such a broad fashion as to consider contested political issues concerning broader notions of 'rights' and 'justice', where the law is clear, and parliament has clearly enacted its will. The purpose of the project is to seek to examine issues of access to justice according to law. With this in mind, the Foundation will seek to investigate the ability of disadvantaged people to:

  • obtain legal assistance (including legal information, legal advice, ongoing legal assistance and legal representation)
  • effectively participate in the legal system through access to courts, tribunals and alternative dispute resolution
  • access non legal advocacy and support
  • participate in law reform processes.

In initially identifying some disadvantaged groups, this paper has canvassed some of the various barriers with which individuals in these groups are confronted. Neither the various groups identified within this paper, nor the issues initially canvassed, are meant to be exhaustive lists. It is an essential element of this project for the Foundation to identify other groups within the community who by virtue of their socially or economically disadvantaged position, face significant barriers in accessing legal services and non-legal advocacy and support. This paper serves as a stimulus for further discourse and submissions, which we hope will identify further issues for investigation.

The Access to Justice and Legal Needs project intends to cover these various issues, many of which raise complex and difficult questions. The Foundation acknowledges that this is a challenging and ambitious project. However, the importance of undertaking such a project using innovative and empirically reliable processes cannot be understated. We hope that the project will contribute significant input into the policies and practices of government, non-government and other interested agencies helping to improve access to justice for the people of New South Wales.


Schetzer, L, Mullins, J & Buonamano, R 2003, Access to justice & legal needs, a project to identify legal needs, pathways and barriers for disadvantaged people in NSW. Background paper. Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney, 2002, <>