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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 10. Towards improving access to justice: a multidimensional approach



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Improving the accessibility of legal services


The present results suggest that, while there is always room for improvement, once respondents access legal services, they generally understand, and are satisfied with, the advice they receive. While English language problems, cost, psychological factors and difficulty accessing special services3 were barriers to obtaining legal advice for some respondents, they were not common obstacles in the present sample. However, given that the present sample was not necessarily representative of all disadvantaged populations within NSW, it is still possible that these factors may represent significant obstacles to accessing justice for some groups of disadvantaged people within NSW.4

The common barriers faced by the present respondents related to accessing legal services in a timely fashion, suggesting that existing legal services were sometimes unable to respond efficiently and effectively to the current demand. Respondents residing in rural/remote areas also had to travel substantial distances to access services in some cases. It appears that dedicated legal advice services are not always readily available where and when people want to use them. As Pleasence et al. (2004b) suggest, better access to justice is likely to be served by

    [legal] advice services ... ‘develop[ing] their operations to mirror the behaviour of those who wish to use them’ (p. 110).

Thus, additional staffing, extension of opening hours, and additional locally accessible services may be warranted if legal services are to provide quick, effective advice and assistance. More outreach services that provide legal services close to the neighbourhood and workplaces of clients may also be useful. Entrepreneurial outreach models in the United States include a mobile legal service in California, sponsored self-help legal information offices housed in churches in Washington DC and a neighbourhood coffeehouse staffed by lawyers ready to provide legal information (ABA SCDLS 2002).

Pleasence et al. (2004b) note that, in the United Kingdom, the extent to which legal advice services can mirror the needs and behaviour of their clients is limited by existing resources. Recent Australian studies suggest that CLCs and Legal Aid NSW offices are under-funded and have limited capacity to provide services, particularly in rural and remote areas (Forell et al. 2005; Schetzer & Henderson 2003; Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee 2004). Clearly, running additional legal services, or extending the current operation of existing legal services, cannot be easily achieved without appropriate funding.



Participants reported requiring special services such as medical/counselling assistance, home visits/special transport, financial assistance, help with complex information, wheelchair access, an interpreter, a place for children to play and access to an outreach service. They reported obtaining these special services in 71 per cent of events where they were required.
As already noted, the quota for the three non-English language groups in the Fairfield LGA was not fully achieved, and interviews were not offered in all non-English languages. Thus, there may have been a bias towards including in the sample people with a good command of English. Similarly, people who are easily embarrassed about legal problems are unlikely to have agreed to an interview. Also, given that many respondents sought help from family, friends and non-legal professionals, they would not have been required to pay legal fees. Finally, court resolution, which can be expensive, was very rare in the present sample.

 Participants reported requiring special services such as medical/counselling assistance, home visits/special transport, financial assistance, help with complex information, wheelchair access, an interpreter, a place for children to play and access to an outreach service. They reported obtaining these special services in 71 per cent of events where they were required.
 As already noted, the quota for the three non-English language groups in the Fairfield LGA was not fully achieved, and interviews were not offered in all non-English languages. Thus, there may have been a bias towards including in the sample people with a good command of English. Similarly, people who are easily embarrassed about legal problems are unlikely to have agreed to an interview. Also, given that many respondents sought help from family, friends and non-legal professionals, they would not have been required to pay legal fees. Finally, court resolution, which can be expensive, was very rare in the present sample.


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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