Discussion paper

Reshaping legal assistance services: building on the evidence base - a discussion paper

Legal services Access to justice Australia

This paper provides a framework for discussion around how Australian access to justice research, policy development and the delivery of public legal assistance services can best build upon the substantial evidence base made up of findings from ‘legal needs’ surveys undertaken in Australia and overseas.

Findings from the Legal Australia-Wide Survey (LAW Survey) confirm that disadvantaged groups are among the most likely to experience legal problems and that legal problems tend to cluster. Just 9 per cent of LAW Survey respondents accounted for 65 per cent of reported legal problems. Income, distance, personal capability and the manner in which services are made available impact on people’s use of legal and other services; with personal capability linking to the utility of different forms of assistance.

In recognition of this, access to justice policy and public legal assistance services are increasingly client-focused. This entails that services are targeted (to those most in need), joined-up (with other services likely to be needed), timely (to minimise the impact of problems and maximise the utility of services) and appropriate (to the needs and capabilities of users).

Chapters 3 to 6 of this paper articulate more fully and explore the implications of these four precepts: targeted, joined-up, timely and appropriate. They expose conceptual, policy and operational tensions in delivering services so defined; but also provide guidance to and illustrations of practice, detail facilitators and obstacles to change and present a range of approaches to evaluation.

Chapter 7 brings together the ideas presented in Chapters 3 to 6 to provide a basis for discussing how to move from the theory to the practice of client-centred services. It starts by considering the extent, form, reach and location of current services; a reflection of successive policy decisions (including sector-wide funding decisions), aimed at addressing the unique (and changing) needs and spatial distribution of communities, and market conditions. It then explores targeted, joined-up, timely and appropriate services in this context, asks what more we need to know to maximise the utility of public legal assistance services, and then proposes a range of key issues for policy makers, service providers and researchers.

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