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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  ( 2003 )  Cite this report



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Chapter 1. Who is disadvantaged in seeking access to justice?


1.1 This chapter details the groups within the community, as identified through the consultation process, who face disadvantage in accessing various elements of the legal system. For each group there is a brief discussion of the reported reasons why people in that group are disadvantaged in accessing justice and a description of their particular legal needs. The barriers they face are discussed in more detail in the following chapters.

1.2 In its Background Paper,1 the Foundation listed a number of groups who have previously been identified 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 (i.e. physical impairment resulting in either a limitation on activities or on social participation, or both)
  • sensory disabilities, including hearing disability (deafness, hearing impairment, hearing loss), vision disability (blindness, vision impairment, visual handicap not corrected by glasses/contact lenses), deafblind, and/or speech disability
  • psychiatric disabilities/mental illness (i.e. anxiety disorders, psychoses, personality disorders, depression, stress, affective disorders)
  • acquired disabilities (i.e. substance addictions, acquired permanent/chronic health conditions or injuries)
  • 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 living in disadvantaged urban environments
  • people with low levels of education and lower levels of literacy
  • gay, lesbian and transgendered people
  • women
  • people living in institutions, including:

– prisoners

– young people in juvenile corrective institutions

– people detained in immigration detention centres

– nursing home residents

– psychiatric institutions

– people released from institutions

  • people without income, social security recipients and other people on low incomes.

1.3 The consultation process also identified these groups as suffering particular disadvantage in obtaining access to justice. In addition, a number of other groups were identified:
  • homeless people
  • men who can’t obtain legal representation for family law or domestic violence matters
  • people who face multiple disadvantage factors.

1.4 Some submissions associated disadvantage with particular individual characteristics or skill deficiencies which present as barriers common to a number of disadvantaged groups. These included issues such as lack of access to a computer, lack of knowledge about the legal system or support services, and unrealistic expectations.

    [People who suffer disadvantage] ….. their response to encounters with the legal system may be inhibited by a lack of knowledge about the legal system, fear of excessive costs, inadequate information about the support services that are available and the inability of those support services to provide a comprehensive and timely response. Other factors such as geographic isolation, communication difficulties, and/or unrealistic expectations may also play a part. The services and processes in place to deal with these problems can potentially address most of these issues but they are not adequately resourced and supported to do so2

1.5 The list of groups identified in the Foundation’s Background Paper, and in the submissions and consultations as outlined below, do not represent exhaustive lists. The Foundation continues to accept further submissions and information regarding other groups who face disadvantage in accessing legal assistance and effective participation in the legal system.

Schetzer, L., Mullins, J. and Buonamano, R., Access to Justice and Legal Needs A project to identify legal needs and barriers for disadvantaged people in NSW Background Paper, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, August 2002, http://www.lawfoundation.net.au/access/background.html
Submission from North and North West Community Legal Service Inc.

 Schetzer, L., Mullins, J. and Buonamano, R., Access to Justice and Legal Needs A project to identify legal needs and barriers for disadvantaged people in NSW Background Paper, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, August 2002, http://www.lawfoundation.net.au/access/background.html
 Submission from North and North West Community Legal Service Inc.


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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