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Access to justice and legal needs. Stage 1: public consultations  ( 2003 )  Cite this report

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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.

The diversity of organisations participating in the consultation process has been vital in identifying the views of the wider community on the priorities for improving access to justice.

The consultation process commenced in July 2002, with the publication and distribution of the project's Terms of Reference (TOR), which included the aim, objectives and outline of the Foundation's Access to Justice and Legal Needs project, and a call for submissions on issues relevant to the project's TOR. Advertisements calling for submissions were placed in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Law Society Journal, the Daily Telegraph, and NCOSS News (Newsletter for the New South Wales Council of Social Services). The TOR were also made available on the Foundation's website ( The advertised closing for date for submissions was 30 September 2002. This was subsequently extended to 30 November 2002.

In August the Foundation published a background paper1 providing further details regarding the project's TOR, and the issues to be examined. The background paper aimed to encourage further debate and interest in the project, as well as assist those individuals and organisations intending to make a submission or be involved in subsequent stages of the project. It also provided:

  • a discussion of the terms 'access to justice' and 'legal needs' in the context of the project
  • an initial identification of some disadvantaged groups whose access to justice and legal needs were relevant to the project, and
  • a brief discussion of studies and research literature on access to justice and legal needs issues.

The Foundation received submissions from a total of 28 organisations and four individuals. These are listed in Appendix 1.

In addition to these written and oral submissions, the Foundation also 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. Where relevant this material has been quoted in this report. The additional material provided with each submission is also detailed in Appendix 1.

The Foundation also conducted seven roundtable forums for legal and community organisations and a number of consultations with selected individuals. Details of these are listed in Appendix 1.

On 10 July 2002, the Foundation, together with the University of New South Wales Social Justice Project, hosted a one-day Access to Justice workshop. The workshop was attended by 44 invited participants, including people from various socially and economically disadvantaged groups, community organisations, legal service providers, professional bodies, legal and social researchers, administrators and policy makers. The aims of the workshop were to:

  • encourage dialogue between representatives of economically and socially disadvantaged groups and people working within the justice system
  • build a better understanding of perspectives from outside the justice system
  • raise issues that have not been taken into account in the access to justice literature.

The papers presented at the workshop and the input from participants in the various workshop working groups have also been considered as part of the consultation process for this stage of the project. An outline of the workshop agenda together with a list of the participants is provided in Appendix 2.

Staff of the Foundation also participated in eight conferences or forums relating to Access to Justice and Legal Needs. These are also listed in Appendix 1. In two of these, the Foundation participated in workshops which were directly relevant to the Access to Justice and Legal Needs Project. These conferences and forums provided further opportunities for the Foundation to receive input for stage 1, and were selected on the basis of providing opportunities to consult with relevant legal and community organisations.

The outcomes of these forums, together with the papers from the conferences/forums have been considered as part of the consultation process. It should be noted that the list of conferences attended does not represent an exhaustive list of conferences and forums which were conducted during this period which may have been relevant to the project's TOR.

Scope of the report

The Foundation has aimed to record as fully as possible the substance of the responses received in this consultation stage, either through written or oral submissions, input received via roundtable forums, or conferences and workshops in which the Foundation was invited to participate.

We have endeavoured to report the perceptions of contributors, some of which will be subjective perceptions of what are potentially, verifiable objective facts. No independent evaluation of these perceptions has been conducted for the purposes of this stage of the overall project. Rather, the intent of this report is to ensure that all voices are heard, and does not discuss whether the contributions are accurate, nor does it endorse the views and judgements expressed by the participants.

Where particular reports and references are quoted in the report, it is in the context of them having been referred to by submissions or participants in the consultation process. The report does not reflect a comprehensive literature review of access to justice and legal needs issues.

A number of submissions and consultation participants made reference to the Background Paper,2 either endorsing or providing more detail regarding the issues raised in it. The report therefore incorporates material contained in the Background Paper, particularly in terms of identification of disadvantaged groups, and the barriers they face in terms of access to justice issues.

Structure of the report

Chapter one details the particular groups within the community, as identified through the consultations, who face disadvantage in accessing various elements of the legal system. Consideration is also given to 'multiple disadvantage'—those people who may fall into a number of different groups facing barriers in accessing justice. There is a brief discussion of why these groups are disadvantaged in accessing justice and an outline of their particular legal needs. The barriers they face are discussed in more detail in the following chapters.

Chapters two to five cover each of the key areas outlined in the terms of reference, that is, the ability of disadvantaged people to:

  • obtain legal assistance (including legal information, basic legal advice, initial legal assistance and legal representation)
  • participate effectively in the legal system (including access to courts, tribunals, and formal alternative dispute resolution mechanisms)
  • obtain assistance from non-legal advocacy and support organisations (including non-legal early intervention and preventative mechanisms, non-legal forms of redress, and community based justice)
  • participate effectively in law reform processes

Each chapter commences with a discussion of the particular barriers faced by disadvantaged groups in the community in respect of each of these elements of the justice system. The existing features and services which endeavour to overcome some of these barriers are then explored, together with some recent innovations which have either been piloted or implemented. Proposals for further innovations and solutions are also presented.

The final chapter considers areas of further research on the issues discussed in the preceding chapters.

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,

 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,

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