899,000 West Australians face legal problems each year, survey finds

The release today of the Western Australian Legal Needs Survey highlights the urgent need for action to address the crisis in access to justice, according to Community Law Australia, campaign by a national coalition of community legal centre bodies.

The survey report documents the Western Australia component of the Legal Australia Wide Survey conducted by the NSW Law and Justice Foundation the largest ever survey of its type in the world. The Western Australian survey involved over 2,000 telephone surveys of households across the state.

The survey results show that legal problems are widespread, with an estimated 899,000 West Australians over 15 experiencing at least one legal problem each year. However the survey shows legal advice is not often sought and when it is, cost is the most common barrier to getting help, alongside other access issues.

West Australians are slightly more likely to experience legal problems than other states but are less likely to seek legal advice for their problems, said Community Law Australia spokesperson Hugh de Kretser.

Concerningly, many people try to solve legal problems either alone or without quality legal help. Worse, many people do nothing in response to legal problems affecting them.

The survey also shows that the burden of legal problems arent shared equally across the community. People with disabilities, single parents and Indigenous Australians face significantly more, and more serious, legal problems.

The survey results highlight the urgent need for action to help people deal with legal issues. These are issues affecting the basics of life income, family, health and safety. This is about helping people with life problems that have a legal dimension. We need a proper safety net for legal help in Australia. The ongoing chronic underfunding of legal assistance services means the current safety net is full of gaping holes.

Importantly, the results show that most legal problems are not resolved in a court room but rather by agreement with the other side or by the decision of government agencies or other bodies. This highlights the role that common sense problem-solving lawyering can play.

Community Law Australia has called on the Federal Government to double its investment in legal assistance services community legal centres, legal aid commissions and Indigenous legal services. Community legal centres provide over 70,000 legal information, advice and casework services to West Australians each year.