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Research Report: Access to justice and legal needs. Stage 1: public consultations
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Access to justice and legal needs. Stage 1: public consultations    Cite this report

, 2003 , 343 p.
Summarises the responses received as a result of submissions and consultations on legal needs and barriers to access to justice.


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Executive summary


This report summarises the responses and input received by the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW during the consultation process conducted as part of Stage 1 of the Access to Justice and Legal Needs Project.

During the consultation process, the Foundation received submissions from 28 organisations and four individuals. In addition to these written and oral submissions, the Foundation received a range of other material including copies of articles written for journals, submissions to similar previous inquiries and published reports. These were either expressly referred to in submissions or in consultations, or supplied to the Foundation as a submission on behalf of an organisation. The Foundation conducted seven roundtable forums for legal and community organisations and a number of consultations with selected individuals.

The Foundation held a one-day Access to Justice workshop attended by 44 invited participants from various socially and economically disadvantaged groups, community organisations, legal service providers, professional bodies, legal and social researchers, administrators and policy makers. Staff of the Foundation also attended and participated in eight conferences or forums relating to Access to Justice and Legal Needs.

The Foundation has aimed to record as fully as possible the substance of the responses received in this consultation stage. Consequently, although not strictly part of the brief for Stage 1, for completeness the report includes some recommendations proffered by participants in the consultation process, as well as areas identified by participants in need of further in depth research and analysis. It should be noted that the Foundation has not undertaken any evaluation of the accuracy of the responses received.

The consultation process identified a number of groups as being economically or socially disadvantaged in terms of their ability to access the law and justice. These were:

  • people with disabilities, including
    • intellectual disabilities
    • physical disabilities
    • sensory disabilities, including hearing disability, vision disability, deafblind, and/or speech disability
    • psychiatric disabilities/mental illness
    • acquired disabilities
  • people from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • Indigenous Australians
  • children and young people
  • older people
  • people living in remote, rural and regional areas
  • people with low levels of education and literacy
  • gay, lesbian and transgendered people
  • women
  • people living in institutions (i.e. prisoners, people detained in immigration detention centres, psychiatric institutions and people released from institutions)
  • people on low incomes
  • homeless people
  • men without legal representation for family law or domestic violence matters
  • people who face multiple disadvantages.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

Barriers for people who are socially and economically disadvantaged

Many of the barriers identified by contributors are relevant to all disadvantaged groups in the community. These included:

  • the high cost of legal services
  • inadequate funding for legal aid service providers
  • restrictive funding policy for legal aid
  • restrictive legal aid eligibility guidelines
  • poor coordination of legal aid services
  • unavailability of legal aid services due to service providers having a conflict of interests
  • tax deductibility of legal expenses for companies and businesses
  • limitations with pro bono legal service provision
  • changes to civil liability laws which restrict accessibility to lawyers
  • inaccessibility of legal information websites and helplines.

Specific barriers to obtaining legal assistance which relate to particular disadvantaged groups as identified by contributors are as listed below:

People with disabilities

  • fear of retribution
  • communication difficulties with legal practitioners
  • poorly resourced specialist services
  • lack of knowledge of available options for legal assistance
  • lack of autonomy to make decisions to seek legal assistance
  • lack of awareness that action may have been taken against them
  • reliance on others to access legal assistance.

For people with an intellectual disability:
  • lack of financial resources
  • lack of awareness that legal advice or representation may be necessary
  • difficulties in communicating with legal practitioners
  • lack of understanding by legal service providers as to the nature of intellectual disability
  • negative stereotypes of people with an intellectual disability
  • lawyers failure to acknowledge the capacity of their intellectually disabled client to give instructions
  • fear of retribution.

For people with a physical disability, physical access to legal advisers

For people with sensory disabilities:

  • lack of access to AUSLAN interpreters
  • inaccessibility of many legal information websites.

For people with psychiatric disabilities, communication barriers

For people with acquired disabilities, issues of prejudice, low self-esteem, fear of discrimination and retribution, and communication problems

People with multiple disabilities were identified as being particularly vulnerable, with few specialist legal services available to assist such people.

People from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds

  • difficulties in accessing interpreter services and translated legal information material
  • lack of funding and services for legal representation in Immigration matters
  • lack of knowledge about the availability of legal service providers, or lack of trust in the services which are available
  • lack of awareness and sensitivity to the needs of diverse cultures and newly emerging ethnic communities amongst service providers
  • lack of availability of female interpreters for issues confronted by CALD women.

Indigenous Australians
  • long-term distrust of the legal system
  • formality of the legal system and its services
  • lack of cultural awareness, sensitivity and compassion among legal service providers
  • lack of Indigenous personnel in organisations which provide legal services
  • intimidation in approaching legal services
  • lack of services for Indigenous people in Civil and Family Law
  • lack of services for issues specific to Indigenous women and children.

Children and young people
  • lack of specialist legal services for young people
  • lack of awareness of rights and legal entitlements
  • reliance on adults to mediate their access to legal services
  • fear of being disbelieved or not taken seriously by service providers
  • most solicitors lack skills in dealing with children and young people
  • intimidating and formal atmosphere of many legal services
  • lack of information strategies which specifically target children and young people.

Elderly people
  • physical incapacity
  • dependency on others
  • diminished self-confidence
  • lack of skills in accessing legal information websites or helplines
  • lack of specialist legal services.

People in rural, regional and remote areas
  • lack of access to services due to remoteness and physical distance
  • lack of available legal services
  • lower levels of literacy and numeracy
  • difficulties in accessing legal information websites
  • difficulties of privacy and confidentiality in smaller rural communities
  • conservative attitudes.

People with low levels of education and literacy
  • complexity of the legal system
  • ignorance of the availability of legal aid
  • inability to recognise a problem as a legal problem
  • ignorance of sources of legal information
  • ignorance of rights
  • inability to assess legal options
  • inability to access information on legal information websites.

Women
  • insufficient availability of legal aid for Civil and Family Law matters
  • insufficient legal aid grants for Family Law
  • insufficient number of private solicitors willing to undertake legal aid Family Law work, particularly in rural and regional areas.

People living in institutions
  • lack of access to legal information websites and telephone helplines
  • lack of quality legal services available to prisoners
  • lack of services to assist with day-to-day prisoners’ rights issues
  • lack of legal services to assist detainees in Immigration detention.

People on low incomes

The most significant identified barrier to obtaining legal assistance for people on low incomes related to the high cost of legal services. The operation of legal aid means test guidelines was considered to be a major factor in denying access to legal assistance for people on low incomes (including part-time employees, self-employed people and low paid full time employees) who could not otherwise afford the services of a private solicitor.

People on low incomes were seen as disadvantaged in terms of the level of legal assistance they could access, when opposed to litigants with significantly more resources.

Homeless people

  • non-availability of legal aid for minor civil matters
  • fear of the legal system, and a belief that their problems will just 'go away'
  • lack of ability to identify their issue as a legal issue
  • lack of specialist legal services which understand the issues confronting homeless people
  • vulnerability to harassment and discrimination
  • low levels of literacy
  • limited access to online information or telephone helplines.

Men

It was reported that men who are respondents in child support matters or Apprehended Violence Order applications are often unable to secure legal aid for representation, and are therefore disadvantaged in the proceedings.

Mechanisms and innovations to assist disadvantaged people

The following services were identified by contributors as enhancing access to legal assistance for disadvantaged people:

  • Legal Aid NSW, with its main office and 19 regional offices in metropolitan and country areas across NSW, specialist services and advice clinics
  • Community legal centres — 19 community legal centres providing generalist services to local geographic catchment areas (including 11 centres in rural and regional areas), and 18 specialist community legal centres delivering services either on particular areas of law or to a particular disadvantaged group
  • Eleven publicly funded Tenancy Advice services
  • Local Courts and Chamber Magistrates’ service
  • LawAccess NSW telephone advice and referral service and legal information services
  • Private legal profession pro bono services and ‘no-win no-fee’ contingency arrangements
  • Online legal information websites and email advice services.

Specific services relating to particular disadvantaged groups were identified as follows:

People with disabilities

  • Disability Discrimination Legal Centre
  • HIV/AIDS Legal Centre
  • Intellectual Disability Rights Service
  • Public Interest Advocacy Centre
  • Legal Aid NSW Mental Health Advocacy Service and Video Conferencing Scheme
  • NSW Local Courts Flexible Service Delivery Policy and outreach services.

People from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • Immigration Advice and Rights Service
  • Refugee Advice and Casework Service
  • Specific community legal education projects undertaken by community legal centres targeting particular small language groups and newly emerging communities
  • Legal Aid NSW Administrative Law service
  • Local Courts outreach services

Indigenous Australians
  • Six Aboriginal Legal Services with 23 branches across NSW
  • Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre
  • Three Aboriginal Tenancy Advice Services
  • Legal Aid NSW Veterans Advocacy Service to Indigenous communities in Moree, Kempsey and Coffs Harbour
  • Legal Aid NSW targeted programs to enhance access for Indigenous people
  • Chamber Magistrates services in Aboriginal Community Health Centres.

Children and young people
  • Targeted legal services for young people provided by the Marrickville Legal Centre, Macquarie Legal Centre and the Shopfront Youth Legal Centre
  • National Children’s and Youth Law Centre
  • Legal Aid NSW Children’s Legal Service and Legal Aid Hotline
  • Local Courts outreach services to youth centres.

Elderly people
  • The Aged-Care Rights Service
  • Legal Aid NSW Veterans Advocacy Service
  • Local Courts outreach services to aged care facilities.

People in rural, regional and remote areas
  • Eleven generalist community legal centres in rural and regional locations across NSW
  • Nine regional offices of Legal Aid NSW are in rural and regional locations across NSW
  • Legal Aid NSW outreach programs, including the Video Conferencing Scheme, the Veteran’s Advocacy Service outreaches, and the Women on Wheels outreach program
  • Four Tenancy Advice Services in rural NSW
  • Local Court outreach services and Chamber Magistrates’ telephone services
  • Online legal information and email advice services.

Women
  • Women’s Legal Resource Centre
  • Domestic Violence Advocacy Service
  • Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre
  • Legal Aid NSW Women’s Domestic Violence Court Assistance Scheme and the Women on Wheels rural outreach project.

People living in institutions

Legal Aid NSW Prisoners Advice Service and Video Conferencing Scheme

Local Courts outreach services to prisoners and patients in psychiatric institutions.

People on low incomes

Services provided by community legal centres, Legal Aid NSW, tenancy advice services, pro bono programs and Chamber Magistrates are available to many people on low incomes.

Homeless people

The Legal Counselling and Referral Centre operating as part of the work of the Rough Edges ministry at St. John’s Anglican Church in Darlinghurst, provides legal assistance to homeless people in inner city Sydney and the Kings Cross/Darlinghurst areas.

Barriers for people who are socially and economically disadvantaged

Many of the barriers identified by contributors as relevant to all disadvantaged groups in the community included:

  • court procedures which involve formality of court processes, intimidating courtroom atmosphere and delays
  • risks of cost orders if unsuccessful
  • limited remedies available through the civil justice system
  • problems associated with increased numbers of self represented litigants
  • legislative changes in NSW regarding tortious liability and the law of negligence which may restrict the access of disadvantaged people to courts for compensation for injuries caused by another's negligence
  • tribunal processes and delays
  • inappropriateness of some alternative dispute resolution mechanisms which have been incorporated in courts’ and tribunal processes, for some particular types of litigation, and for some types of litigants
  • challenges to authority of the courts to resolve particular disputes.

Specific barriers to effective participation in the legal system relating to particular disadvantaged groups as identified by contributors are as follows:

People with disabilities

  • accessibility of court premises and processes
  • issues of formality and the adversarial nature of judicial proceedings
  • the operation of the rules of evidence
  • negative perceptions of players in the justice system of people with disabilities
  • the lack of people with disabilities who perform significant functions within the justice system
  • for people with hearing or vision related disabilities, difficulties in accessing information at court, or participating fully in proceedings
  • difficulties in communication in court based ADR processes.

People from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • difficulties with the availability of interpreters
  • lack of cultural sensitivity with diversionary programs and mediation/conciliation
  • lack of rights to legal representation in Migration matters in Review Tribunals
  • restrictive processes involved with the review of Migration matters.

Indigenous Australians
  • communication difficulties
  • formality of court processes and cross examination techniques
  • time limitation issues for people who are members of the stolen generation
  • perceptions by Indigenous people of bias in some tribunal jurisdictions
  • perception of discrimination by police in exercising discretion to refer young Indigenous people to diversion programs
  • lack of accessibility in processes for the Anti Discrimination Board and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, for matters involving discrimination complaints.

Children and young people
  • delays and lengthy proceedings
  • inappropriate legal procedures, cross examination and rules of evidence
  • stereotypical views of young people held by some court officers
  • lack of skills of magistrates in dealing with children and young people
  • lack of information available to young people about what they can expect when they go to court
  • lack of legal capacity to initiate proceedings
  • lack of awareness of specialist tribunals
  • power imbalances in mediation and conciliation processes.

Elderly people

Physical access issues, poor audibility and courtroom environments were the main barriers for effective participation in the legal system identified for elderly people.

People in rural, regional and remote areas

  • lack of access to courts
  • limited circuit hearings by courts and tribunals
  • lack of sentencing and bail options due to fewer available services.

People with low levels of education and literacy
  • complexity of court processes
  • requirements in some jurisdictions for written applications and correspondence.

Women
  • rules of evidence and cross examination techniques in court hearings where women appear as witnesses for sexual assault charges
  • perceived reluctance by police to initiate applications for Apprehended Violence Orders in domestic violence situations
  • perceived problematic attitude of magistrates to domestic violence situations
  • inappropriateness of Family Court based mediation and conciliation in cases involving domestic violence.

People living in institutions and people released from institutions

Identified barriers to effective participation in the legal system for people living in or released from institutions included distrust and low expectations of the system’s capacity to provide redress for wrongs or recognition of rights.

People on low incomes

  • costs of litigation
  • risk of adverse costs order
  • cost of court fees, experts’ reports, transcript costs, etc.
  • power imbalance in relation to opposing litigants who are more wealthy
  • inability to afford advocacy assistance for ADR processes.

Homeless people

The principal barrier to effective participation in the legal system identified for homeless people was lack of confidence in the legal system that their rights will be respected.

Effective participation in the legal system

Mechanisms and innovations to assist disadvantaged people

The following services and initiatives were identified by contributors as enhancing effective participation in the legal system for disadvantaged people:

  • plain language legislation clarifying the jurisdiction of the Local Court
  • case management systems to reduce delays in court waiting lists
  • complaints clearance project for the Anti-Discrimination Board
  • the Court Support Scheme
  • the Federal Magistrates’ Service
  • programs to assist self represented litigants
  • plain English and online application forms for Court actions
  • non-adversarial, informal processes of many tribunals.

Specific services and initiatives which assist particular disadvantaged groups as identified by contributors are as follows:

People with disabilities

  • the NSW Attorney General’s Department Disability Strategic Plan, which seeks to improve access to court procedures, physical access to courts and communication processes
  • support persons and advocates who attend court with people with intellectual disabilities
  • the Court Liaison Nursing Service, which assists with the appropriate assessment and support of people with psychiatric disability through the court process
  • the Parramatta Drug Court and the Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment program for people who suffer substance addiction.

People from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • agreements with the Community Relations Commission to facilitate fee-free access to interpreters at Local Courts
  • the Interpreters and the Law training program, which aims to improve the quality of interpreter services
  • pro bono assistance programs in the Federal Court for refugee and migration judicial review cases
  • a review of the recommendation of the 1994 Quarter Way to Equal Report 1 which documents the particular experiences, difficulties and needs of women from CALD backgrounds when trying to access the legal system to end domestic violence in their lives.

Indigenous Australians
  • the Aboriginal Client Services Program within Local Courts, which aims to provide responsive service delivery to Aboriginal service users
  • the Aboriginal English project which seeks to identify and respond to communication barriers for Aboriginal people in court settings
  • the Circle Sentencing pilot in Nowra
  • the NSW Attorney General’s Department Aboriginal Justice Plan, which will seek to address the over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system
  • the employment of Indigenous staff as Court officials and Court liaison officers.

Children and young people
  • diversionary programs for young offenders provided by the Young Offenders Act 1997
  • family group conferences under the Children (Care and Protection) Act 1997
  • the Children’s Court and tribunals which are less formal in their processes.

People in rural, regional and remote areas

It was identified that visits and circuit hearings by courts and tribunals enhance participation in the legal system by people in rural, regional and remote areas.

Women

  • the review by the NSW Attorney General’s Department Violence Against Women Specialist Unit of the Heroines of Fortitude report in relation to women’s experiences in the courtroom in sexual assault cases
  • the Apprehended Violence Order Scheme.

Homeless people

It was identified that organisations which provide personnel to attend court with people who are homeless to support them through the court process, assist their participation in the legal system

Obtaining assistance from non-legal, advocacy and complaint handling bodies

Barriers for people who are socially and economically disadvantaged

Barriers to obtaining assistance from non-legal bodies which are relevant to all disadvantaged groups in the community, as identified by contributors, included:

  • lack of resources and skills in community agencies
  • reduction and outsourcing of Family mediation services
  • lack of confidence in industry based complaint-handling bodies
  • lack of awareness of industry based complaint-handling bodies.

Specific identified barriers to obtaining assistance from non-legal bodies for particular disadvantaged groups as identified by contributors are as follows:

People with disabilities

  • perceived low standards of service from non-legal disability services
  • fear of withdrawal of service if a person with a disability complains about that service
  • lack of support services and lack of resources for existing services for people with disabilities
  • difficulties with physical accessibility to services
  • power imbalances, prejudice of mediators, and difficulties in effective communication in ADR processes such as mediation
  • prejudicial attitudes from police or government authorities towards people with disabilities.

People from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • lack of community workers and services for newly emerging CALD groups
  • denial of access to many community services for people applying for Temporary Protection Visas
  • lack of cultural sensitivity of some mediation and conciliation processes
  • difficulties in effective communication in ADR processes
  • lack of translated information about community dispute resolution mechanisms.

Indigenous Australians
  • inappropriate referrals from community organisations
  • cultural inappropriateness of many non-legal community organisations
  • cultural inappropriateness of some ADR processes
  • lack of confidence and trust in government authorities and the police
  • confusion about processes within different Government authorities and complaint handling bodies.

Children and young people
  • lack of trust and confidence in community organisations and some personal support networks
  • numerous and inappropriate referrals from community agencies
  • unfriendly or intimidating atmosphere within community organisations
  • prejudicial attitudes towards young people from some community agencies
  • lack of transport to access services
  • lack of quality and consistency of service in community organisations
  • lack of resources for community organisations
  • lack of youth specific services
  • power imbalances within ADR processes such as mediation or conciliation
  • lack of trust and confidence in government authorities and the police
  • lack of knowledge of complaints systems and complaint handling bodies
  • fear of retribution if complaints are made.

Elderly people
  • lack of advocacy services for elderly people
  • difficulties associated with ADR processes, including low self-esteem, passivity, limited negotiation skills, dependency on others and power imbalances in negotiation.

People in rural, regional and remote areas
  • lack of quality advice and advocacy services in rural and remote areas
  • lack of support services in rural areas
  • lack of non-adversarial conflict resolution services in rural areas
  • difficulties associated with ADR processes, including stereotyping of rural people, lack of confidentiality and privacy in rural areas, difficulties in finding neutral mediators, cultural differences, power imbalances in negotiation and lack of awareness of conflict resolution services
  • difficulties in accessing free toll 1800 number for some complaint handling bodies.
  • People with low levels of education and literacy
  • difficulties in accessing information in accessible formats from libraries
  • lack of information in accessible formats about complaint handling bodies
  • processes of complaint handling bodies which require written complaints.

Gay, lesbian and transgender people

Issues of bias and power imbalances in negotiation in ADR processes were identified as barriers for gay, lesbian and transgender people.

Women

In relation to ADR processes, issues of gender bias, stereotyping of women, aggressive negotiation styles, lack of easy access to dispute resolution centres and lack of information about dispute resolution processes were all identified as barriers for women.

People living in institutions and people released from institutions

  • perceived lack of independence of available complaint handling services for prisoners
  • lack of non-legal advocacy support services for prisoners and ex-prisoners
  • lack of disability support services for prisoners who are intellectually disabled.

People on low incomes

In relation to ADR processes, issues of power imbalances in negotiation, lack of economic bargaining power in negotiation and lack of familiarity with dispute resolution processes were identified barriers for people on low incomes. Low-income people who have restricted use telephones are not able to access complaint-handling services through free call 1800 numbers.

Homeless people

Prejudicial attitudes of service providers towards homeless people was identified as a barrier to accessing non-legal advocacy and support.

Men

The withdrawal of counselling services for parents post separation was identified as presenting a barrier for men in accessing non-legal support.

Mechanisms and innovations to assist disadvantaged people

The following services and initiatives were identified by contributors as enhancing access to non-legal assistance for disadvantaged people:

  • community organisations and workers, including social workers, citizen’s advocacy and settlement workers, tenancy advocates, other community based advocacy organisations and Migrant Resource Centres
  • libraries
  • Community Justice Centres
  • early intervention counselling in family disputes
  • the Public Trustee NSW
  • the Government Access Program, based in Local Courts
  • Victims Services (for victims of crime)
  • industry based complaint handling bodies, which can assist for resolving disputes about insurance companies, investment products, telecommunications services, energy, water, credit unions, banks and insurance brokers.

People with disabilities
  • peak bodies such as People with Disabilities
  • the Illawarra Disability Trust Criminal Justice Program
  • the Public Trustees NSW.

People from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • ADR processes which are sufficiently flexible to accommodate diversities in culture
  • Victims Services’ information programs which target victims of crime from non-English speaking backgrounds
  • Energy and Water Ombudsman information programs targeting people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Indigenous Australians

Aboriginal Community Justice Groups

ADR processes which are sufficiently flexible to accommodate the particular needs of Indigenous people, and which overcome some of the inappropriateness of the formal justice system

police

Victims of Crime Bureau Aboriginal Project Officer.

Children and young people

  • youth workers, schoolteachers, school counsellors, social workers and parents.
  • ADR processes which are flexible, more informal, emphasise direct communication and less costly
  • police youth liaison officers and Police and Community Youth Clubs
  • Ombudsman’s office Youth Liaison Officer, and youth advocate positions within Government departments
  • visitors’ schemes for Juvenile Justice Centres and Department of Community Services institutions.

Elderly people
  • ADR processes which are flexible, more informal, emphasise direct communication and less costly
  • the Public Trustee NSW
  • Centrelink services.

People in rural, regional and remote areas
  • ADR processes which are flexible, more informal, timely, and cheap
  • Victims Services’ officers who are available in rural and regional areas
  • Victims Services 1800 numbers and online applications and information
  • locally based Victims Services counsellors
  • branches of the Public Trustee NSW in rural and regional areas
  • free 1800 numbers for Government de partments, ombudsman offices and industry complaint bodies.

Gay, lesbian and transgender people

ADR processes were identified as mechanisms which may offer lesbians and gay men the possibility of avoiding many of the problems that they perceive exist with the formal justice system. In addition, the privacy afforded by many ADR processes was identified as an attractive feature for members of sexual minorities.

Women

ADR processes such as mediation were identified as being attractive to women, as they provide a less formal way of resolving disputes and also provide a method of dialogue.

The Local Courts Domestic Violence project, which seeks to ensure victims receive appropriate support and referrals, was also identified as a valuable service.

People living in institutions

Organisations and charities such as St. Vincent de Paul, which undertake prison visits, were identified as services which can provide some non-legal support for prisoners, as were teachers, educators and counsellors who visit prisons.

People on low incomes

ADR services were identified as often being the only practical dispute resolution option for people on low incomes.

The Public Trustee NSW was also identified as providing services for people on low incomes.

Homeless people

The importance of consultative, case management communication strategies across professions was identified as an important model of service provision for homeless people, so that issues of housing, health, drug dependency and employment can be addressed in a cohesive manner.

Participation in law reform

Barriers for people who are socially and economically disadvantaged

Barriers to law reform common to several disadvantaged groups as identified by contributors included:

  • vilification and marginalisation of advocacy bodies
  • lack of funding, skills and resources for grass roots advocacy
  • emphasis of funding bodies on casework delivery
  • threats of competitive tendering
  • prevailing political climate forcing reactive advocacy
  • the role of the media in framing social opinion
  • the formality, language and lack of public participation in formal inquiries, Royal Commissions and Special Inquiries
  • rising levels of disillusionment and frustration with political processes.

Specific barriers to participation in law reform processes for particular disadvantaged groups as identified by contributors are as follows:

People with disabilities

  • inaccessible formats, both printed and online, of reports and discussion papers
  • use of formalised language in discussion papers and reports
  • lack of physical access and hearing assistance at law reform hearings and public forums
  • difficulties in communication and preparing submissions for people with intellectual disability.

People from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • formalised language in discussion papers, reports and hearings
  • lack of access to translated material.

Indigenous Australians

Lack of adequate consultation with Indigenous communities was identified as a significant barrier for Indigenous Australians participating in law reform processes.

Children and young people

The political marginalisation of children and young people and the absence of a national advocate for children’s rights were identified as barriers to effective participation in law reform processes for children and young people.

People in rural, regional and remote areas

Physical distance, and the location of many law reform commission inquiries, parliamentary inquiries and special commissions of inquiry in city locations, were significant barriers identified for people in rural, regional and remote locations participating in law reform processes.

People with low levels of education and literacy

Use of formalised language in discussion papers, reports and hearings was identified as a barrier for people with low levels of education and literacy participating in law reform processes.

Gay, lesbian and transgender people

The reliance on mediation, and the consequential reduced possibility of achieving change through litigation was identified as a barrier for people in sexual minorities seeking to achieve changes in the law.

Women

Inadequate funding for women’s organisations was identified as a barrier for women participating in law reform processes.

People living in institutions and people released from institutions

Sensationalised media reporting of prison issues was identified as a barrier for prisoners and ex-prisoners effectively participating in systemic reform.

People on low incomes

Business and corporate incentive to settle claims by people on low incomes which may involve adverse publicity, was identified as a barrier to effective law reform for such people.

Mechanisms and innovations to assist disadvantaged people

The following services and mechanisms were identified by contributors as enhancing access to law reform processes:

  • community organisations carrying out their advocacy role
  • law reform advocacy of community legal centres on behalf of their communities
  • advocacy training programs to assist individuals and community organisations become more effective law reform advocates
  • public participation and consultation strategies undertaken by law reform commissions
  • targeted consultation strategies carried out by law reform commissions for particular disadvantaged groups, including people of sexual minorities, women, children and young people, and people with disabilities
  • specific programs initiated by consumer and industry bodies which seek to represent and advocate on behalf of customers and consumers.

People with disabilities

Mechanisms which assist people with disabilities participate in law reform processes as identified by contributors included:

  • provision of reports and discussion papers by the NSW Law Reform Commission in alternative formats, accessible to people with sight impairments and people with intellectual disability
  • specific consultation strategies by the NSW Law Reform Commission, for people with various disabilities, including specific focus groups, individual consultation meetings, and representation on advisory committees
  • use of disability networks to undertake public consultations
  • presentation of online materials in accessible formats.

People from culturally and/or linguistically diverse backgrounds

The Refugee Council of Australia has developed a kit to assist individuals and community organisations become more effective law reform advocates on issues relating to refugees and asylum seekers.

Indigenous Australians

Consultation with Indigenous organisations and representative bodies, such as the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council, as well as Indigenous representation on advisory committees were identified strategies employed by law reform commissions to encourage effective participation by Indigenous people in their processes.

Children and young people

Youth advocacy bodies and organisations such as the Youth Justice Coalition, were identified as avenues by which the views of young people and children can be presented to law reform commissions and parliamentary inquiries.

Particular law reform commission inquiries occasionally produce issues papers and reports specifically aimed at children and young people, as well as undertaking consultation strategies targeting children and young people.

People in rural, regional and remote areas

Law reform commissions indicated their preparedness to accept verbal submissions by telephone, as well as undertaking public consultation forums in rural and regional areas, to enhance access for people in those areas.



  


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Schetzer, L. & Henderson, J 2003, Public consultations: a project to identify legal needs, pathways and barriers for disadvantaged people in NSW, Access to justice and legal needs vol. 1, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney