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Research Report: Data digest
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Data digest: a compendium of service usage data from NSW legal assistance and dispute resolution services, 1999-2002    Cite this report

, 2004 , 164 p.
Analyses data collected by the main publicly funded NSW legal service providers on the nature of inquiries received, the demographic characteristics of inquirers and the pathways they took to resolve their issues.


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Executive summary


The Data Digest forms part of Stage 1 of the Access to Justice and Legal Needs Research Program, the goal of which is to identify the particular legal and access to justice needs of economically and socially disadvantaged people in New South Wales. The Digest contributes to Stage 1 of the broader program by providing a snapshot of expressed legal need in the community. In particular, the Digest describes the type of legal matter, the demographic characteristics of those who seek assistance from services and the pathways they take to resolve their problems, over the period 1999 to 2002.

The Digest has two sections. The first section presents data from the following legal assistance services in NSW: Legal Aid NSW Information/Advice Service2, Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service, LawAccess NSW, NSW Community Legal Centres and the Chamber Magistrate Service. The second section presents an overview of published demographic data on the service users of dispute resolution agencies in NSW.

Legal Assistance Services

Data are presented on the type of legal matter, and the demographics and pathways of service users. The ‘inquiry’ was the unit of measure for all data analyses. Chi-squared tests were used to examine whether the type of legal matter and the profile of service users changed over time, whether the demographic characteristics of service users were related to the type of legal matter, and whether the legal matter was related to how the user found out about the service or where they were subsequently referred.

The type of legal matter

Figure 1:  Percentage of inquiries in Family, Civil and Criminal law, by service

  • Inquiries about Family and Civil Law accounted for over three quarters of all inquiries to the Legal Aid NSW Information/Advice Service, LawAccess NSW, and NSW Community Legal Centres (generalist).
  • In contrast, 87 per cent of inquiries to the Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service related to Criminal Law. This difference reflects the different service environments. The Duty Solicitor Service deals with users of Local Courts whereas the other services deal with inquiries from across the community.
  • Housing, credit/debt, and employment were among the five most frequent types of Civil Law inquiry for Legal Aid NSW, LawAccess NSW and NSW Community Legal Centres (Generalist). Government/legal system, consumers and wills/estates were in the five most frequent areas of Civil Law inquiry in two of these three services (see Table 1).

Table 1:  Top five categories of Civil Law inquiries, by service
Legal Aid NSW Info/Advice 1999-2002% of totalLawAccess NSW% of totalNSW Community Legal Centres (Generalist) 1999-2002% of total
Government/Legal system 7.4Housing 7.8Housing 11
Credit/Debt5Wills/Estates6.4Government/Legal system10.3
Housing 3.2Credit/Debt 7.1Credit/Debt 6.7
Employment 2.7Employment 5.8Employment 6.4
Wills/Estates2.7Consumers 5.6Consumers 4.1
Note: The Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service was not included as the proportion of Civil Law inquiries was too small for analysis.

Demographics of service users

Gender

  • The overall proportion of inquiries from women to NSW Community Legal Centres (64%) and the Legal Aid NSW Information/Advice Service (54%) was higher than the proportion of women in the NSW population (51%). This is in contrast to the Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service, which had a high proportion of inquiries from men (78%).
  • Changes in the use of services over time by men and women varied between services. The proportion of inquiries from women to the Legal Aid NSW Information/Advice Service declined; the proportion of inquiries from women to the Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service increased; and the proportion of inquiries from women to Community Legal Centres did not change significantly.

Table 2 shows for men and women separately the top 5 specific areas of law (ranked in order of frequency) for the Legal Aid NSW Information/Advice Service and NSW Community Legal Centres, with areas in common shaded. Although both men and women had a high proportion of family law inquiries, women were significantly more likely than men to inquire about family law.

Table 2:  Top 5 specific areas of law by gender and service

GenderLegal Aid NSW Information/Advice%NSW Community Legal Centres%
MaleGeneral crime 27.9Government/Legal system28.9
Family24.8Family16.1
Government/Legal system10.1Housing10.2
Traffic offences5.4Credit/Debt6.9
Credit/Debt5General crime6.6
FemaleFamily50.6Family34.5
General crime9.1Government/Legal system17.9
Government/Legal system5.3Housing9.1
Credit/Debt5Domestic violence7.5
Housing3.6Credit/Debt5
Note:  Specific areas of law in common for both services are shaded.

Age

  • A consistent pattern of inquiries from different age groups emerged across services, with 25 to 44 year olds having a high proportion of inquiries in comparison to their share of the NSW population in all services. The proportion of inquiries tapered off for the younger and older age groups.
  • The type of legal matter and age of clients were related in all services, with similar patterns emerging across services. Compared with the sample as a whole, inquiries from the younger age groups were more likely to be about Criminal Law, inquiries from the middle age groups were more likely to be about Family Law and inquiries from the older age groups were more likely to be about Civil Law (see Table 3).

Table 3:  Broad area of law about which each age group was more likely to inquire, by servicea
Age (years)Legal Aid NSW AdviceLawAccess NSWNSW Community Legal Centresb
2000-200220021999-2002
0 to 14CrimeCrimeCrime
15 to 17CrimeCrime
18 to 24CrimeCrimeCrime
25 to 34FamilyCrime
35 to 44FamilyFamilyFamily
45 to 54FamilyFamily
55 to 64CivilCivilCivil
65 to 74CivilCivilCivil
75 and overCivilCivil
a  The Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service was not included in the analysis of age by legal matter due to the high proportion of inquiries about Criminal Law (87%).

b  CLC age groups are slightly different to the other services. See Table 22 for more details.

Country of birth

  • The proportion of inquiries from service users who were born in non-English speaking countries varied across services. Relative to their proportion of the NSW population (18%), there was a greater use of Community Legal Centres (28%) and the Legal Aid NSW Advice Service (27%) by people born in non-English speaking countries. The Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service had a slightly lower than expected proportion of inquiries from service users born in non-English speaking countries (16%), given their share of the NSW population.
  • For service users born in non-English speaking countries, those born in North Africa/Middle East, South/Central America and the Pacific Islands made the greatest number of inquiries relative to their proportion of the NSW population to all three services (See Table 4). Of the English speaking countries, service users born in New Zealand made more inquiries than would be expected given their share of the population in all three services.

Table 4:  Highest 3 proportion of inquiries from service users born in non-English speaking countries relative to share of the population, by service
Legal Aid NSW AdviceLegal Aid NSW Duty SolicitorNSW Community Legal Centres
North Africa/Middle EastPacific IslandsSouth/Central America
South/Central AmericaNorth Africa/Middle EastNorth Africa/Middle East
Pacific IslandsSouth/Central AmericaPacific Islands
  • The relationship between country of birth and area of law was analysed for two services—the Legal Aid NSW Advice Service and NSW Community Legal Centres. People born in non-English speaking countries were more likely to inquire about Civil Law than people born in English speaking countries for both services. Inquiries about the government/legal system area of Civil Law were particularly high across all non-English speaking countries of birth. A large proportion of these were about immigration/refugee matters for both services.
  • Service users born in English speaking countries were more likely to inquire about Criminal Law than service users born in non-English speaking countries in both services.
  • With regard to Family Law, compared with service users born in English speaking countries, service users born in non-English speaking countries were more likely to make inquiries about Family Law to the Legal Aid NSW Advice Service and less likely to make inquiries about Family Law to NSW Community Legal Centres.

Indigenous Australian status
  • The proportion of inquiries from Indigenous Australians to the Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service (4%) and NSW Community Legal Centres (5%) was about twice as high as expected, given their share of the NSW population (1.9%). The proportion of inquiries from Indigenous Australians to the Legal Aid NSW Advice Service (2%) was only slightly higher than expected on a population basis (1.9%).
  • The proportion of inquiries to NSW Community Legal Centres by Indigenous Australians increased steadily between 1999 and 2002, but inquiries to the Legal Aid NSW Advice and Duty Solicitor Services did not change significantly.
  • For both the Legal Aid NSW Advice Service and NSW Community Legal Centres, the following specific areas of law were among the five most frequently inquired about by Indigenous Australians: family, general crime, government/legal system and credit/debt (see Table 5).

Table 5:  Five most frequent specific areas of law inquired about by Indigenous Australians by service
Legal Aid NSW Advice 2000-2002%NSW Community Legal Centres 1999-2002%
General crime36.1Family36.7
Family30.9General crime11.8
Government/Legal system8.4Domestic violence11.4
Credit/Debt2.7Government/Legal system9.6
Personal injury2.6Credit/Debt6.2

There were significant differences in the specific areas of law that Indigenous Australians inquired about compared with non-Indigenous Australians:

  • A greater proportion of inquiries from Indigenous Australians to the Legal Aid NSW Advice Service concerned general crime, consumers, health/human rights and personal injury.
  • A greater proportion of inquiries from Indigenous Australians to NSW Community Legal Centres concerned family law, general crime, domestic violence, health/human rights and personal injury.

Source of income
  • The majority of inquiries to the Legal Aid NSW Advice Service (67%), the Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor Service (92%) and NSW Community Legal Centres (68%) were from service users on no income or on government benefits.

Region of residence

Postcodes were mapped to Australian Bureau of Statistics regions. See Appendix 3 for more details.

  • Five Sydney regions (Inner Sydney, Central Western, Blacktown, Fairfield-Liverpool, Outer South Western), and 5 non-Sydney regions (Richmond-Tweed, Illawarra, Mid-North Coast, Northern, Far West) had higher proportions of inquiries than would be expected on a population basis for three of the five services.
  • The proportion of inquiries to services from Sydney and from rural/regional service users differed between services (see Table 6).

Table 6:  Rates of inquiries per 1000 population by region of residence of inquirer and service
ServiceAnnual rate

per 1000

SydneyNon-Sydney
Legal Aid NSW Information/Advice16.816.6
Legal Aid NSW Duty Solicitor14.49.4
LawAccess NSW7.88.7
NSW Community Legal Centres14.59.6
Chamber Magistrate14.937.4
  • The percentage of inquiries about Family Law from rural/regional areas of NSW tended to be higher than the average percentage of Family Law inquiries across all regions in NSW. The regions of Sydney that had a higher than average percentage of inquiries about Family Law were in the outer suburbs.
  • Civil Law inquiries predominated in metropolitan Sydney.
  • Inquiries about Criminal Law were more widely dispersed, with rural/regional NSW being slightly more likely to experience a higher than average percentage of inquiries. Inquiries to LawAccess NSW about Criminal Law related matters were particularly high for rural/regional NSW.

Pathways

Source of inquiry

  • Data for how service users found out about services were only available for the Legal Aid NSW Advice Service. Service users found out about the Service in a range of ways, with the top four sources being friend/family (35%), police (17%), telephone book (12%) and government (10%).

Referral destination

Data on referral destination were available for the Legal Aid NSW Information Service, LawAccess NSW and NSW Community Legal Centres.

  • A high proportion of inquiries was not referred in all three services—70% for the Legal Aid NSW Information Service; 40 per cent for LawAccess NSW and 65 per cent for NSW Community Legal Centres. These percentages include referrals to other sections of the same agency, for example to other sections of Legal Aid.
  • Of those inquiries that were referred, there was a high proportion of referrals to legal organisations (Community Legal Centres, courts, Legal Aid and private solicitors) across the three services, although the comparative ranking varied (see Table 7).

Table 7:  Top four referral destinations, by service
Legal Aid NSW Information% of totalLawAccess NSW% of totalNSW Community Legal Centres% of total
Community legal centre25.7Legal Aid NSW26.5Private solicitor23.4
Private solicitor19.5Court16.2Court15.9
Court18.4Private solicitor15.6Community organisation14.6
Government11.7Dispute resolution12.5Community legal centre13.8
  • Referral destination varied according to the type of legal matter, with some patterns emerging across services—Family Law inquiries were more likely to be referred to private solicitors; Criminal Law inquiries were more likely to be referred to courts, and Civil Law inquiries were more likely to be referred to government and dispute resolution services.

Dispute resolution agencies

The examination of Annual Reports of dispute resolution agencies in NSW revealed many gaps in the availability of relevant data. As a result, a reliable demographic profile of the service users of these agencies could not be compiled. Nonetheless, the compilation of these data in the Digest provides a useful starting point for a more detailed analysis of this nature.



Where data is only collected for either information or advice inquiries, Legal Aid NSW Information Service or Legal Aid NSW Advice Service is used.

 Where data is only collected for either information or advice inquiries, Legal Aid NSW Information Service or Legal Aid NSW Advice Service is used.


CLOSE
Scott, S, Eyland, A , Gray, A, Zhou, A & Coumarelos, C 2004, Data digest, a compendium of services usage data from NSW legal assistance and dispute resolution services 1999-2002, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney, 2004