ACT News


Many reluctant to seek legal help

More than half of Canberrans in trouble with the law do not seek legal help and suffer for it, a new study shows.

Legal Aid ACT chief executive Andrew Crockett said services needed to move beyond pamphlets and on to social media to reach out to those who needed them.

New ACT figures released on Tuesday as part of the Legal Australia-Wide Survey showed almost half of Canberrans had encountered legal problems in the previous year. But many did not seek aid, with 51 per cent saying they dealt with the problem themselves or ignored it.

''There can be a variety of reasons why people don't seek legal help - sometimes they don't know they have a legal problem,'' Mr Crockett said.

''And so one of the challenges we face is to improve the targeting of community legal education programs and raise awareness of legal problems and also where people can go to get help.

''Pamphlets have been very popular in the past but I think, these days, we need to make greater use of electronic media, things like Facebook and so on, particularly with younger people.''


Mr Crockett said an effort also had to be made to reach out through agencies that were in regular contact with people in need of legal help.

Legal problems canvassed in the survey ranged from consumer matters to those dealing with housing, accidents and government as well as with crime.

The survey also revealed that the disabled, single parents, the unemployed, indigenous people and the homeless were more likely to find themselves in legal hot water.

Almost one in four respondents experienced a ''substantial'' legal problem with a ''severe or moderate'' impact on their daily life.

''What the research is showing is that, as you would expect, someone with an unresolved legal problem preying on their mind is more likely to suffer stress-related illness, physical illness can also result,'' Mr Crockett said.

''If the legal problem relates to the workplace, for example, they might be out of a job. If it relates to consumer problems there may be debt issues.

''And all of these things then snowball unless they're dealt with soundly at an early stage.''

Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the figures, while largely unsurprising and in line with other jurisdictions, were worrying. ''What's important about this report is not that they are not coming to us, but that we have to work out ways of bringing legal services to them,'' he said.

Mr Corbell said the report would shed light on the best place to put the legal centre hub enshrined in the Labor-Greens parliamentary agreement.

''Should it be here in the city, or should it be in areas more likely to reach out to a broad range of Canberrans who actually need that support?'' he said.