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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 1. Introduction



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Resolution of legal events


The duration of legal problems appears to vary considerably. For example, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that, of the concluded problems reported through the LSRC survey, 52 per cent had a duration of three months or less, 21 per cent had a duration of at least a year and 2 per cent had a duration of five years or more. Such a large variation suggests that, other things being equal, the resolution rates reported for legal problems by different studies will depend on the length of the reference period, with longer reference periods presenting greater opportunity for resolution.

However, the length of the reference period is clearly not the only factor affecting resolution rates. Genn (1999), using a 5.5 year reference period, reported that almost half of the reported problems had been resolved, whereas Pleasence et al. (2004b) and the LJF (2003) reported somewhat higher resolution rates (64% and 57%, respectively) despite using shorter reference periods (3.5 years and one year, respectively). Some of the factors associated with resolution rates are discussed below.

Factors related to the resolution of legal events

Not surprisingly, resolution rates have also been found to vary for different types of problems, even though different studies sometimes report different resolution rates for apparently similar problem types. For example, in the United Kingdom, Genn (1999) found that employment, neighbour and landlord problems had relatively low resolution rates while divorce/separation, money and consumer problems had relatively high resolution rates. In their national United Kingdom sample, Pleasence et al. (2004b) found that family-related problems (i.e. relationship breakdown, divorce, domestic violence, children), along with immigration and neighbour problems, tended to last longer than other problem types.

In the Bega Valley LGA in NSW, the LJF (2003) reported that personal injury, credit/debt, consumer, government, family, criminal and employment events were least likely to be resolved, while business, wills/estates, housing, domestic violence and motor vehicle events were most likely to be resolved.

In addition to problem type, the Genn (1999) and LJF (2003) studies also examined if other factors were associated with whether or not the event had come to a conclusion of some sort by the end of the reference period. Genn (1999) found that resolution was more likely to be achieved by younger adults (25–34 years) and less likely to be achieved by people aged 65 or over. She also found higher resolution rates for higher-income earners, persons with higher levels of education, persons who sought advice from a lawyer or law centre, defendants rather than plaintiffs, and persons who desired a money/property remedy. The LJF (2003) pilot study found higher resolution rates for non-Indigenous Australians compared with Indigenous Australians.19



The LJF (2003) also found higher resolution rates for people who dealt with the event themselves compared with people who sought outside advice. However, this finding may simply reflect that people take on easier problems that they think they can resolve, but seek advice for more difficult problems.

19  The LJF (2003) also found higher resolution rates for people who dealt with the event themselves compared with people who sought outside advice. However, this finding may simply reflect that people take on easier problems that they think they can resolve, but seek advice for more difficult problems.


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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