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A look at the 2012 Legal Needs Survey

A portrait photo of Katrina Breen

People with disabilities often have legal problems. One of these problems is that people often break the law by not treating us as they should. People with disabilities often find that doctors do not look after us properly, people do not treat us as equals, and landlords, neighbours, government organisations and police may treat us unfairly. A recent survey shows that people with disabilities and single parents are twice as likely as other people to have legal problems. The survey looks at why some people have a lot of legal problems, and what can be done to help those affected.

Posted by: Katrina Breen, on 06/02/13

The outside of a courthouse

People with a disability are twice as likely to experience serious legal problems compared to most of the population

People with a disability are twice as likely to experience serious legal problems compared to most of the population, a study shows. A legal problem means that someone has violated our rights according to the law, or someone else is accusing us of violating their rights, or in some cases it could be a situation in which we are not sure what our rights are, such as in a dispute with a neighbour. People with disabilities are more likely to have their human rights violated, experiencing unfair treatment and discrimination.

Legal Needs Survey

In October 2012 the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales published the findings of the LAW (Legal Australia-Wide) Survey. It is said to be the largest survey of legal need ever conducted in the world. Half of the respondents said they had experienced at least one legal problem over the previous 12 months.

The survey used a range of different measures to find out which groups of people had the greatest need in regard to legal problems. It was found that people with a disability, as well as single parents, were twice as likely to experience legal problems. The most common legal problems reported by all respondents included consumer disputes, crime, housing disputes and government problems. Indigenous Australians were found to commonly experience multiple legal problems.

Hard to resolve legal disputes

According to National Legal Aid chairman Bevan Warner, very few people are now able to access legal aid services, due to a reduction in Commonwealth funding. The LAW Legal Need in Australia report showed that for most people, it is not easy to resolve legal problems, and that trying to do so often leads to large amounts of stress and unsatisfactory outcomes. A lot of people either decline to seek legal advice or take no action at all, often because of stress, cost, or simply not knowing what to do. The unemployed are among those who are less likely to take action; and many people with disabilities are also unemployed.

Affecting people's lives

The study also highlights the effects that legal problems have on people's lives and how they handle their situation. Mr Warner says People with legal problems get sick, have relationship breakdowns or lose their home. This leads to people needing other kinds of help, so giving more legal assistance in the first place would save everyone, including the government, money by preventing these added issues from occurring.

Not equal rights

Mr Warner also stated that, Disability is linked to increased rates of most [legal] problem types, including clinical negligence, discrimination, neighbour issues, rented housing [and] unfair treatment by police and government organisations.....

The report said that of the various disadvantaged groups, people with a disability are the most likely to experience legal problems according to the greatest number of measures, and are the most likely to experience a wide range of different types of legal problems. In addition, people with a disability are more likely to have multiple legal problems per person and to have more serious legal problems overall.

Why do people with disabilities experience legal problems?

Since people with disabilities in general face more challenges and obstacles in our day-to-day lives, it makes us more likely to experience situations in which other people might be negligent or take unfair advantage. People with disabilities generally have lower financial means, more difficulties in making and maintaining social contacts and attending appointments and activities in the community than people without disabilities. The report sums up these kinds of difficulties as social exclusion. Many people without disabilities also experience these kinds of problems. However, in general, people with disabilities face more significant social exclusion. These factors increase the likelihood that a person will have their legal rights violated by other people.

The report also explained how one legal problem can lead to more. For example, if a loss or dispute leads to sickness, family problems or housing problems, a person might then have their rights violated in these areas as well!

Solutions to the problem

The LAW Survey and subsequent report has found that there are a wide range of reasons why people experience legal problems, and looks at what kind of assistance and resources people need to help resolve them. In other words, people's needs differ so widely that different approaches are required to cater for a variety of needs. Addressing people's non-legal needs, such as providing more assistance with health care and housing is also important, and will lead to fewer legal problems and greater ease in resolving problems if and when they occur.

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Readers comments (1)

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Posted by: Peter Williams, melbourne 07/02/2013 at 07:42pm

Thanks for bringing this up Katrina i think its a subject that could do with more discussion. From my experience when i had a very visable disability i often had to endure harrassment. If i retaliated the police were often called and they rarely took my side. It was as if they thought well your out on the street walking funny what do you expect. Back then there was also no law against vilifying someone because they had a disability if they were in a public place. I dont think the law has changed. I beleive i am not the only one who has copped this kind of treatment. It was kind of pointless to talk about it there was no one to complain to and no one who could any take action on my behalf. I asked a policmen once who is going to stick up for my rights and he said there is no one.

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