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Research Report: Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas
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Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas  ( 2006 )  Cite this report

Ch 3. The incidence of legal events



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Types of legal events reported


The survey measured the incidence of 101 different legal events. These events were categorised under three broad areas of law, namely civil, criminal and family law, and then further categorised into 15 legal event groups (see Table B1, Appendix B).1 The categorisation resulted in 76 civil law events, 16 criminal law events and nine family law events.

Table 3.2 presents the reported incidence of legal events during the 12-month reference period, broken down by broad area of law and legal event group. Table C1 in Appendix C presents the reported incidence of each of the 101 different legal events.2

Table 3.2: Incidence of legal events by broad area of law andlegal event group, all six LGAs, 2003

Area of lawLevel event group
Participants
Events
No.
%
No.
%
CivilAccident/injury
466
19.2
554
9.6
Business
122
5.0 a
125
2.2
Consumer
536
22
690
11.9
Credit/debt
292
12
384
6.6
Education
181
7.4 b
223
3.9
Employment
293
12.1 c
426
7.4
Government
474
19.5
631
10.9
Health
77
3.2 d
90
1.6
Housing
550
22.6
673
11.7
Human rights
141
5.8
196
3.4
Wills/estates
356
14.6
417
7.2
Total civil
1518
62.4
4409
76.3
CriminalDomestic violence
96
3.9
109
1.9
General crime
646
26.6
872
15.1
Traffic offences
78
3.2
83
1.4
Total crime
733
30.2
1064
18.4
FamilyFamily
206
8.5
292
5.1
Unclassified
11
0.5
11
0.2
Total
1679
69.1
5776
100
a 562 participants owned a small business. Of these, 122 (21.7%) reported at least one business event.
b 1076 participants were full- or part-time students, or were responsible for a student. Of these, 181 (16.8%) reported at least one education event.
c 1417 participants were employed full- or part-time at some time during the reference period. Of these, 293 (20.7%) reported at least one employment event.
d 768 participants had chronic conditions or mental/physical disabilities or were responsible for a person with a disability or an elderly person. Of these, 77 (10.0%) reported at least one health event.

Notes: Participants sometimes reported multiple legal events (within or across legal event groups). ‘Unclassified’ legal events consist of events that were unclearly described by participants.

Table 3.2 shows that 62.4 per cent of participants reported experiencing one or more civil law events during the 12-month period, compared with only 30.2 per cent for criminal law events and 8.5 per cent for family law events. It is worth noting that this distribution may partly reflect the survey’s greater focus on civil law events than on criminal or family law events.

Within civil law, the legal event groups reported by the highest proportions of participants were housing (22.6% of all participants), consumer (22.0%), government (19.5%), accident/injury (19.2%), wills/estates (14.6%), employment (12.1%) and credit/debt (12.0%).

As detailed in Appendix Table C1, the most frequently reported housing events involved buying or selling a home (9.0% of all participants), disputes with neighbours (6.3%), tenancy problems (5.0%) and homelessness (3.9%).

The most common consumer events involved problems related to goods and services (10.6%), disputes with financial institutions (9.8%) and problems with insurance (4.8%). Problems related to goods/services and disputes with financial institutions had the third and fourth highest incidence rates among the 101 different legal events examined.

Relatively frequently reported government events included local council problems (6.5%), non-traffic-related fines (5.0%), problems with pensions or benefits (4.6%), and disputes related to taxation or debt (3.8%).

Eight per cent of respondents reported a car accident involving property damage, 6.5 per cent reported a work injury and 7.2 per cent reported a personal injury not related to work or a car accident.

Making or altering a will had the second highest incidence rate among the 101 legal events examined, with 11.1 per cent of respondents reporting this event.

Respondents reported that employment events included disputes related to employment conditions (7.3%), workplace harassment or mistreatment (5.1%) and workplace discrimination (3.0%).

The most frequently reported credit/debt events involved problems concerning money owed to the respondent (6.2%) and problems paying bills or debts (6.0%).

In terms of the broad area of criminal law, events within the general crime legal event group were reportedly experienced by over one-quarter (26.6%) of all participants, whereas domestic violence events (3.9%) and traffic offence events (3.2%) were only reported by relatively small proportions of participants.

The most commonly reported event within the general crime legal event group was having one’s property stolen or vandalised, with 18.9 per cent of all survey participants reporting being victims of stolen or vandalised property. It is worth noting that stolen/vandalised property was the most frequently reported of all the 101 legal events examined. Nine per cent of participants reported being victims of assault and 4.4 per cent reported that the police failed to investigate a crime. It is also worth noting that only five participants reported being in an adult prison or juvenile detention centre at some time during the reference period, and as a result, only a small number of legal events were related to imprisonment.

Within family law, the most frequently reported events included experiencing divorce or separation (3.3%), problems with child support payments (3.2%), and problems with residence or contact arrangements for children (2.9%).

Reporting multiple legal events

Some participants reported more than one event of a particular type (i.e. within the same legal event group). Table 3.3 presents the number of participants who reported multiple events within a particular legal event group.3 It can be seen that the event groups with the highest percentages of participants reporting multiple events were employment, family, human rights, general crime, credit/debt and government.

Table 3.3: Incidence of multiple legal events by broad area of law and legal event group, all six LGAs, 2003

Area of LawLegal event group
No. of participants with
% of participants with multiple events
1+ events
Multiple events
CivilAccident/injury
466
74
15.9
Business
122
3
2.5
Consumer
536
125
23.3
Credit/debt
292
69
23.6
Education
181
40
22.1
Employment
293
100
34.1
Government
474
112
23.6
Health
77
10
13
Housing
550
107
19.5
Human rights
141
39
27.7
Wills/estates
356
50
14
CriminalDomestic violence
96
12
12.5
General crime
646
161
24.9
Traffic offences
78
5
6.4
FamilyFamily
206
62
30.1
Total
1679
1138
67.8

Some participants reported experiencing events across more than one legal event group during the reference period. To examine whether different types of events tended to co-occur, that is, tended to be experienced by the same participants, a hierarchical cluster analysis and an exploratory factor analysis were conducted on the 15 legal event groups. The cluster analysis placed legal event groups that tended to be experienced together in the same cluster, and event groups that tended to be unrelated in different clusters. The factor analysis also examined the pattern of relationships between legal event groups, with related event groups contributing to, or loading on, the same underlying dimension or factor.4

Figure 3.2 summarises the results of the cluster analysis in the form of a tree diagram or dendrogram. The branches of the dendrogram join together legal event groups that tended to be related (or co-occurred), with shorter branches representing greater similarity (or co-occurrence) between legal event groups than longer branches. The dendrogram reveals three main clusters, with two of these clusters consisting of further, smaller clusters.5

Figure 3.2: Dendrogram of legal event groups

Notes: N=2431 participants.
The centroid method of clustering was used.

The first cluster includes a broad range of legal event groups, comprising general crime, consumer, government, housing, accident/injury, employment and wills/estates events. This broad cluster consists of three more defined sub-clusters, namely (a) general crime and consumer events, (b) government and housing events, and (c) accident/injury and employment events.

The second cluster comprises family, domestic violence, human rights and education events, with family and domestic violence events forming one sub-cluster, and human rights and education events forming a second sub-cluster.

The third cluster is an economic cluster comprising business and credit/debt events. Health and traffic offence events do not fit neatly into any of the main clusters identified.6

The factor analysis revealed a similar pattern, also resulting in three main groupings or factors, with health and traffic offence events again not cohering with any of these groupings (see Table C2 in Appendix C for a summary of the factor solution).7 The first factor was a broad factor which included five of the seven legal event groups evident in the broad grouping according to the cluster analysis—general crime, consumer, government, accident/injury and employment. The factor analysis suggested, however, that housing and wills/estates events did not significantly contribute to this grouping. It also suggested that human rights events formed an additional element of this broad grouping rather than cohering with the family grouping as suggested by the cluster analysis.

The second factor, like the second cluster, was dominated by family and domestic violence events, but human rights and education events did not significantly contribute to this factor.

The factor analysis, like the cluster analysis, also revealed a third grouping dominated by business and credit/debt events. The factor analysis also suggested that consumer events significantly contributed to this grouping, although not as strongly as they contributed to the broad factor.8



In addition to the 101 classified legal events, a further three different types of events were unable to be classified and are excluded from the three broad areas of law and the 15 legal event groups.
As noted in the Method section in Chapter 2, it is possible that events of a highly personal or sensitive nature (e.g. events involving domestic violence, assault, criminal charges, child protection, discrimination, immigration) were under-reported.
Although the survey measured whether participants experienced more than one type of event belonging to the same legal event group, it did not measure the number of times that each specific event was experienced.
See the Method section in Chapter 2 for further details about the hierarchical cluster analysis and factor analysis.
The number of clusters was decided by subjective inspection of the dendrogram in conjunction with consideration of large jumps in the fusion coefficient at each stage of the analysis. See the Method section in Chapter 2 for further details and Figure C1 in Appendix C which displays the fusion coefficient at each stage of the analysis.
Figure C1 in Appendix C reveals large jumps in the fusion coefficient between Stages 1 and 2, between each pair of Stages from 5 to 9, and between Stages 10 and 11. Given that we were interested in the interrelationships between all 15 legal event groups, we examined the clusters formed up to the latest large jump in the fusion coefficient (between Stages 10 and 11). At this point, there were three main clusters consisting of (1) a broad cluster comprising general crime, consumer, government, housing, accident/injury, employment and wills/estates, (2) a family/rights cluster comprising family, domestic violence, human rights and education, and (3) an economic cluster comprising business and credit/debt. Between Stages 5 and 6, the economic cluster was identical to that between Stages 10 and 11. The broad cluster had not yet formed but its three sub-clusters were evident. The family/rights cluster had not yet formed but its two sub-clusters were evident.
The wills/estates group also did not load significantly on any factor. In the cluster analysis, wills/estates was the weakest contributor to the broad cluster (i.e. the last event group to join onto the broad cluster).
Note that cluster analysis, unlike factor analysis, does not allow the same legal event group to contribute to more than one cluster, but places each event group in the most relevant cluster.

 In addition to the 101 classified legal events, a further three different types of events were unable to be classified and are excluded from the three broad areas of law and the 15 legal event groups.
 As noted in the Method section in Chapter 2, it is possible that events of a highly personal or sensitive nature (e.g. events involving domestic violence, assault, criminal charges, child protection, discrimination, immigration) were under-reported.
 Although the survey measured whether participants experienced more than one type of event belonging to the same legal event group, it did not measure the number of times that each specific event was experienced.
 See the Method section in Chapter 2 for further details about the hierarchical cluster analysis and factor analysis.
 The number of clusters was decided by subjective inspection of the dendrogram in conjunction with consideration of large jumps in the fusion coefficient at each stage of the analysis. See the Method section in Chapter 2 for further details and Figure C1 in Appendix C which displays the fusion coefficient at each stage of the analysis.
 Figure C1 in Appendix C reveals large jumps in the fusion coefficient between Stages 1 and 2, between each pair of Stages from 5 to 9, and between Stages 10 and 11. Given that we were interested in the interrelationships between all 15 legal event groups, we examined the clusters formed up to the latest large jump in the fusion coefficient (between Stages 10 and 11). At this point, there were three main clusters consisting of (1) a broad cluster comprising general crime, consumer, government, housing, accident/injury, employment and wills/estates, (2) a family/rights cluster comprising family, domestic violence, human rights and education, and (3) an economic cluster comprising business and credit/debt. Between Stages 5 and 6, the economic cluster was identical to that between Stages 10 and 11. The broad cluster had not yet formed but its three sub-clusters were evident. The family/rights cluster had not yet formed but its two sub-clusters were evident.
 The wills/estates group also did not load significantly on any factor. In the cluster analysis, wills/estates was the weakest contributor to the broad cluster (i.e. the last event group to join onto the broad cluster).
 Note that cluster analysis, unlike factor analysis, does not allow the same legal event group to contribute to more than one cluster, but places each event group in the most relevant cluster.


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Coumarelos, C, Wei , Z & Zhou, AH 2006, Justice made to measure: NSW legal needs survey in disadvantaged areas, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney