A number of reports into increasing access to justice highlight the lack of knowledge of the legal system and the need to provide up-to date, relevant information:
"…the [Law Reform] Commission noted that there appears to be a general lack of knowledge about the legal system among Australians and that this lack of knowledge denies many people the opportunity to participate in the process or to understand the reason why the legal system affects them in particular ways … a co-ordinated information strategy involving the Commonwealth and State agencies would ensure a far better use of resources" (Australian Law Reform Commission 1992, p. 20)
"… the real access issue is obtaining good up-to-date information - it is therefore important that community workers are well informed about social security and about how to access advice and information" (Women's Legal Resources Centre 1994, p. 51)
The Internet would seem to provide an ideal way to provide this up to date, relevant information. It has the potential to reach a wide audience, material is easily updated, and costs are less than providing the same material in print. There is already an impressive amount of Australian legal information being provided free of charge via the Internet including legislation, case law and plain English guides to the law.
But what do we know about whether this material is reaching the people in the community who need it?
In this paper I will draw together findings from the research literature on both information seeking behaviour and use and Internet use and discuss the implications of these findings for provision of legal information via the Internet.
As well as having the potential to increase knowledge and understanding of the law in our society, the Internet has the potential to increase citizen partipation in the framing and application of the law. This is an important issue but it is not one I will be discussing in this paper.