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

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Chapter 10. Towards improving access to justice: a multidimensional approach

Legal needs cut across many areas of everyday life, and their resolution involves people from many walks of life. However, people have different legal needs. Some have multiple, complex legal needs, while others are more resilient. People also choose different means of handling their legal issues, and some people are less successful than others in resolving their problems. This diversity in experience suggests that a broad-brush, one-size-fits-all approach to accessing justice in the disadvantaged areas surveyed would be less than ideal. No single strategy is likely to be successful in meeting all problems for all people.

Increasingly, thinking on access to justice is moving away from unidimensional strategies that concentrate solely on the provision of easily accessible, high quality reactive legal services. More and more, the emphasis is shifting to multi-pronged approaches that include preventative and proactive strategies in addition to reactive strategies, in an effort to maximise both the appropriate utilisation of the legal system and the efficient targeting of limited resources (e.g. MacDonald 2005; Pleasence et al. 2004b). MacDonald (2005) identifies five waves in thinking about the concept of access to justice which demonstrate its evolution over recent decades:

1. concentrating on equal access to lawyers and courts

2. correcting structural inadequacies within the court and legal aid systems

3. ‘demystifying’ the law through, for example, the plain language movement

4. recognising the importance of preventative law, including the role of alternative dispute resolution, and, more recently

5. developing proactive strategies to empower citizens to access legal education, information and assistance services, and to participate in every institution in which law is created, found, administered, interpreted and applied.

MacDonald (2005) argues that a multidimensional approach to justice enables legal services to be tailored to the needs of individuals. While there is no easy formula for determining in advance what access to justice solution will be most appropriate for any given person, a ‘menu’ of options to accessing justice allows individualised choice.

Supporting a multidimensional approach, the present results suggest a number of reactive, preventative and proactive strategies that could play critical roles in access to justice in the disadvantaged areas surveyed. In particular, such strategies include:

  • providing general community legal information and education
  • tailoring legal information, education, advice and assistance services to meet the specific needs of different groups and individuals
  • improving the accessibility of legal services
  • using non-legal professionals as gateways to legal services
  • improving the coordination between different legal services
  • providing a more coordinated response from legal and non-legal services for people with multiple legal and non-legal needs.


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