Access to justice roundtable ( 2003 ) Cite this report
The first point participants made was that the distinction between legal information and legal advice means absolutely nothing to ‘the punters out there’. The distinction is confusing to ‘somebody who doesn’t really know if they need information or advice, or indeed what the difference is, and quite frankly doesn’t care anyway’.
Participants generally agreed that trying to draw the information/advice distinction creates confusion, and that if we are going to draw a distinction at all we need to think of different words. For example, ‘you could say that information is about how the system works, but if you have a real problem and real issues and real questions to ask about your particular situation and what you need to do, then you need advice.’
However, participants also noted that the distinction between information and advice can be about context. For example:
Importance for Intermediaries
By contrast, participants thought that the distinction between legal information and legal advice can be an important one for intermediaries for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they saw the issue of who is entitled to give legal advice as important. One participant raised the issue that the Legal Practitioners Act defines who can give legal advice. Getting indemnity insurance also impacts on who can give legal advice. Many insurance policies are very strict about this.
One way a participant suggested that a useful distinction could be drawn in a community service delivery context was between ‘practical’ and ‘legal’ advice. For example:
Some community workers are fearful of being sued if ‘advice’ is given. However, participants also noted that many community workers do not realise how infrequently people actually get sued in this area. Also the law on negligent advice is ‘really slippery’—particularly in relation to the duty of care.
People of Non English Speaking Background
Participants raised problems with accessing translation/interpreter services for NESB women. They reported that the Quarter Way to Equal report set up processes for women to have better access to interpreter services but that many of these had not been acted upon.
Participants identified children of parents who do not speak English as an important group as they are often the interpreters for their parents. They may need specially developed information.
Participants saw it as important to have people from a similar cultural background deliver information, for example bilingual health workers. Religious leaders, community settlement workers, community leaders and the ethnic media were also mentioned as good people to disseminate information.
Migrant Resource Centres were noted as an important way to access non-English speaking communities. However participants said that these were overstretched because of lack of resources.
Participants raised the issue of what to do with young people with a mix of high level needs and are therefore in crises situations, for example, ‘can’t read; have left school in Year 6; don’t seek legal help till the last minute; have a $6000 debt and are at crisis point’.
Sources of legal information
Participants noted a need for a solid information infrastructure that provided a reliable, neutral source of legal information. The Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC) network provides this resource, and the role of librarians is to help guide people through all the legal information that is available.
Some participants pointed out that libraries are of limited use for people with poor literacy—‘the law is in words and libraries are full of words’.
Getting to libraries was seen as difficult in some areas and use of libraries is variable: ‘in some country areas indigenous people use the libraries and in some areas they don’t.’
Other participants argued that libraries are not necessarily for the middle classes—they reflect their own communities. Libraries also have lots of repeat customers, and therefore have the opportunity to build an ongoing relationship with users.
For those with literacy problems, some participants thought that the best approach was to target workers. It was pointed out that LIAC staff see part of their role as providing community workers with authoritative up-to-date legal information.
Legal web sites
There was a strong feeling among participants that the usefulness of web sites depends on how well designed they are and how much they meet user needs—for this reason user needs analysis needs to be done. Some noted that it also depended on what the expectations are about what they are going to provide. If they are properly developed they can be very useful:
Participants saw training as essential for non-lawyers dealing with clients who have legal problems. For example:
It was agreed that lawyers do not necessarily make the best trainers; however, legal workshops run by professional educators may also not work because educators do not have the practical legal experience and knowledge to answer participants’ questions about how the theory works in the ‘real world’. Participants thought that a better model might be for collaboration between a professional trainer and a lawyer to ensure that the practical content is useful while the educative model is also sound.
Participants saw a need for organisations providing intermediary training to have an ongoing relationship with community workers. Working with intermediaries over a period of time was seen as helping to build up their confidence and knowledge.
The training provided by the Macquarie Legal Centre was praised because:
It was noted that CLC’s have been forced to reduce their educative role because they do not have enough resources and there is such a high demand for casework.
Participants said that general community education for adults is not usually successful unless it is based around a current and specific need:
The school system was seen as crucial in bringing about more understanding of how the legal system works and what questions to ask, yet school often does not provide basic information about legal structures, for example, ‘what is third party insurance’.
Participants thought that the peer education model was one possible way to increase understanding of the law and legal system. The NSW Attorney General’s Department Violence Against Women Unit, for example, is currently running a peer education project with Tamil and Hindi Women’s Groups. The aim of the project is to train groups of young women to support other women in the areas of positive and healthy relationships and self-esteem and self-image. There will also be some legal issues covered such as where to find services. They are running focus groups with young women on what should go into a training package.
There was some discussion on getting a stream of legal education through the schools, for example civics courses to promote discussion of the legal system.
Participants also mentioned that there is also a lot of peer mentoring carried out with young people in areas such as safe sex, accommodation, lobbying and advocacy. Reviews have been done of peer mentoring and how well it works. One issue raised was that mentors need to be supported and possibly paid.
There was discussion of what works in the area of public education including the use of social marketing. A participant reported that the NSW Attorney General’s Department is currently running a domestic violence project using these techniques, called It’s against all the rules. They are using local sports people, schools, postcards and stickers and the backs of buses to promote the message. Separate regional specific promotions have also been carried out including a promotion working with the aboriginal community in Western Sydney called Let’s keep our mob on track.
Participants asked whether community workers know who to refer people to. They generally felt that this was not the case. For example, they commented that training for youth workers showed that they did not know what Legal Aid did. Participants thought that community settlement workers need more training on what legal services exist:
Some said that people prefer to go to a particular service such as an indigenous service, but may not want to in some circumstances, and that therefore there needs to be referral choice.
A participant reported that LawAccess has implemented a system of referral agreements. These involve gathering relevant information about organisations and also inviting organisations to contact LawAccess if they do not make an appropriate referral they so that they can follow up why it happened and put remedies in place to address this.
The possibility was raised that the Law and Justice Foundation could facilitate an interagency approach to referral.