The Legal Problems of Everyday Life - The Nature, Extent and Consequences of Justiciable Problems Experienced by Canadians

Chapter VI: Action and Inaction: Responses to Justiciable Problems (continued)

Problem Responses and the Seriousness of Justiciable Problems

It should come as no surprise that the more seriously respondents perceive their problem, the greater the likelihood they will seek some form of assistance, particularly legal assistance. Among respondents who took no action because they thought the problem was not serious enough, 13.5 per cent said that the problem was either extremely or very disruptive to their daily lives. The comparable percentages are 21.9 per cent of respondents who took no action but had some reason that suggested a barrier to access to assistance, 18.6 per cent of the self-helpers indicated that the problem was extremely or very disruptive to their daily lives. Among those respondents who sought non-legal assistance 35.3 per cent said that the problem was extremely or very disruptive and 41.8 per cent of respondents who had legal assistance said the problem was extremely or very disruptive.[210]

Figure 10: Percent Experiencing Disruption in Daily Living by Response to Justiciable Problems

Figure 10: Percent Experiencing Disruption in Daily Living by Response to Justiciable Problems

[Description]

Using as an indicator of seriousness the desire to have the problem resolved produces a more consistent pattern. Although it is more likely a second, although inconsistent judgement, about the importance the problem first mentioned than a judgement about the degree of seriousness of the problem, 29.3 per cent of respondents who took no action because the problem as not serious enough said it was extremely or very important to resolve the problem. Among people who identified a reason for taking no action, 48.2 per cent thought it was extremely or very important to resolve the problem. This percentage increases to 59.6 per cent for the self-helpers, 78.8 per cent for respondents who sought non-legal assistance and to 83.1 per cent for people who received legal assistance.[211]

Figure 11: Percent Expressing a Strong Desire to Resolve Problem by Response to Justiciable Problems

Figure 11: Percent Expressing a Strong Desire to Resolve Problem by Response  to Justiciable Problems

[Description]

Even though it makes sense to take the wide-angle view of access to justice, assuming that problems that do not come to the attention of the formal justice system are nonetheless important, it is clear that the greater the perceived seriousness of the problem the greater the likelihood that the person will seek legal assistance.

Problem Responses and Problem Types

As one might expect, respondents tend to respond to the different types of problems differently. Respondents most frequently took no action thinking the problem was not important enough for problems related to police action and, interestingly, problems arising with respect to social assistance. Respondents took no action thinking that the problems was not important enough in 11.7 per cent of all police action problems, and in 10.0 per cent of all problems related to social assistance. The percentages of other types of problems for which no action was taken because of a lack of perceived importance were closer to the overall average of 5.7 per cent; personal injury (1.9%), housing (3.2%), Threat of legal action (3.9%), bt (4.3%), hospital treatment and release (5.8%), immigration (5.7%), consumer (6.2%) and employment (6.8%).

Respondents were most likely to take no action for one of the reasons described above in 39.6 per cent of all discrimination problems, in 36.9 per cent of all problems related to police action, in 19.6 per cent of all employment problems, 18.6 per cent of all problems related to hospital treatment and release, 17.7 per cent of all consumer problems, 17.1 per cent of all immigration problems and in 16.7 per cent of all disability pension problems. This compares with an average of 16.6 per cent of respondents taking not action for some specific reason overall. The no action with reason response made up 15.5 per cent of responses to problems with wills and powers of attorney, 13.7 per cent of responses to both threats of legal action and to personal injury problems, 12.3 per cent of debt problems, 9.3 per cent of all relationship breakdown problems and 8.8 percent of all other family law problems, and finally in 8.2 per cent of all problems related to social assistance.

Most respondents attempted to resolve the problem on their own. This was most frequent in relation to debt problems in which respondents chose the self-help option 59.4 per cent of the time and for consumer problems, where respondents chose the self-help option in 58.7 per cent of all problems of this type. Respondents attempted to resolve the problem without any other form of assistance in 48.8 per cent of all hospital treatment and release problems and in 55.1 per cent of all social assistance problems. The other problem types for which the self-help option was less than the average of 44.3 per cent were: immigration (34.3%), disability benefits (3.3%), housing (30.5%), Employment problems (30.1%), personal injury 26.7%), discrimination (25.3%) and wills and powers of attorney (24.7%). The two problem categories for which respondents were least likely to opt for the self-help option were other family law problems ((20.6%) and relationship breakdown (20.1%). It is surprising that in 37.3 per cent of all problems involving the treat of legal action respondents indicated that they tried to handle the problem on their own. This no doubt involved attempting to talk to the other party, as with many of the other problem types. This response may reflect the anticipated high cost of retaining legal counsel.

Respondents resorted to non-legal assistance most frequently for personal injury problems, in 42.2 per cent of all problems of this type. Taking all problems combined, respondents opted for non-legal sources of assistance in 22.3 per cent of all problems. Respondents attempted to obtain assistance from non-legal sources more frequently that the average in 35.8 per cent of all employment problems, in 35.8 per cent of all problems involving wills and powers of attorney, 33.6 per cent of housing problems, 33.3 per cent of all problems relating to disability pensions, 28.6 per cent of immigration problems, in 24.5 per cent of all problems relating to social assistance, in 23.3 per cent of hospital treatment and release problems and in 23.5 per cent of other family law problems. Respondents sought non-legal assistance with less than the average frequency in discrimination problems (22.0%), family law: relationship breakdown problems (17.6%), debt problems (15.7%) and in 9.7 per cent of problems arising from police action.

On average respondents sought legal assistance for 11.1 per cent of all types of problems. Respondents were most likely to seek legal assistance for family law problems. Respondents sought out legal assistance for slightly less than half, 48.8 per cent, of all relationship breakdown problems and for 47.1 per cent of other types of family law problems. Other problem types for which people sought legal assistance to a greater extent than the overall average were threat of legal action (35.3), wills and powers of attorney (21.2%), police action (20.4%), housing (16.8%), disability benefits (16.7%), personal injury (15.3%) and immigration (14.2). problem areas for which respondents sought legal assistance less than average were debt (8.5%), social assistance (8.2%), employment (7.5%), consume problems (5.3%), hospital treatment and release (3.5%) and, finally, discrimination (3.3%).

Satisfaction with Assistance

On the whole respondents seem to feel that any form of assistance they receive when dealing with a civil justice problem is helpful. Of the 645 respondents who responded to the question just over 75 per cent indicated that the assistance received was helpful; 44.9 per cent indicated that the help they received was very helpful and 31.0 per cent said the assistance was somewhat helpful. In total 20.8 per cent said that the assistance was either not very helpful or not at all helpful, 10.9 per cent in each case. Only 1.0 per cent said it was too early to tell and 1.5 per cent said they did not know.

Evidently, assistance or advice from friends is typically considered helpful. Considering all problem types combined, an overwhelming 88.2 per cent of respondents indicated that the advice they received from friends or relatives was very or somewhat helpful (n = 51). Of the respondents who consulted privately retained lawyers, 75% said that the assistance they received was either very or somewhat helpful (n = 184). This compares with respondents who received advice or assistance from legal aid lawyers. In this case, 66.6 per cent indicated that the assistance they received was very or somewhat helpful, while 22.2 per cent said it was not very helpful or not helpful at all (n = 27). People who received advice from organizations other than government offices (excluding unions) indicated that in 78.8 per cent of all problems the assistance was very or somewhat helpful. This compares with assistance from government offices. In this case respondents indicated that they were very or somewhat satisfied with the assistance they received for 56.2 per cent of problems and that the advice was somewhat or not helpful at all in 43.9 per cent of cases (N = 57). Respondents who resorted to unions for assistance reported that they were very or somewhat satisfied in 65.6 per cent of all cases and not satisfied in 18.3 per cent (n = 71).

Appearing in Court

Overall, respondents had to appear in court or at a tribunal for 14.9 per cent of all problems (n = 637). The highest percentage of problems in which respondents had to appear in court was for family law problems; 45.8 per cent (n = 48) for the other family law problems and 39.5 per cent (n = 64) for relationship breakdown. These percentages are not particularly high. It is possible that over the life span of family law problems a higher percentage would involve a court appearance. However, it does seem possible that many people do not obtain assistance in a timely manner.

Table 41 shows the proportions of problems for which a court appearance was involved for separate problem types.

Table 41: Frequency of Court Appearance for Problem Types
Problem Type Number Per Cent
Other Family Law 48 45.8%
Relationship Breakdown 62 39.5%
Threat of Legal Action 23 39.1%
Police Action 31 38.7%
Housing 48 31.3%
Disability Pensions 24 29.2%
Social Assistance 16 18.8%
Personal Injury 93 14.0%
Immigration 15 13.3%
Debt 348 12.1%
Discrimination 25 12.0%
Employment 616 9.2%
Hospital Treatment and Release 23 8.7%
Consumer 248 7.6%
Wills and Powers of Attorney 188 3.7%

c2 = 218.9, p = .0001, Phi = .34

The problem type for which respondents appear in court the least is wills and powers of attorney, at 3.7 per cent. Also, consumer problems, although numerous, are infrequently dealt with in court.

In most cases where the problem did involve an appearance at a court or administrative tribunal, respondents were represented. Overall, respondents had no representation of any kind in 27.5% per cent of all problems. Conversely, people were represented for 72.5% of problems proceeding to a court or tribunal (n = 291). In 58.1 per cent of all cases the respondent was represented by a lawyer, by a non-lawyer advocate in 10.7 per cent of all cases and by a friend or relative in 3.1 per cent of all matters.

Respondents were most likely to be represented in family law matters. Representation was present for relationship breakdown problems in 79.7 per cent of all cases and, conversely there was no representation in was present in 20.1 percent of all relationship breakdown problems going to court (n = 162). In almost al cases representation was by a lawyer, 75.6% and reportedly by a friend or relative in 3.1% of problems. The percentage of problems for which respondents had representation in other family law maters was 81.9 per cent, with 10.2 per cent having no representation. In this case all representation was by lawyers (n = 48). The level of representation was lowest for problems arising from police action. Respondents reported having representation in 33.3% of all problems involving an appearance at a court or tribunal, and, conversely, no representation for 67.7 Per cent of all problems of this type. (n = 31). Table IV shows percentages of problem types in which respondents were represented.

Table 42: Representation in Court or at Tribunals
Problem Type Represented Not Represented (N)
Total Lawyer Advocate Total Lawyer
Hospital Treatment and Release 100.0% 50.0% 50.0% 100.0% 50.0%
Discrimination 100.0% 85.7% 14.3% 100.0% 85.7%
Disability Pensions 100.0% 85.7% 14.3% 100.0% 85.7%
Threat of Legal Action 89.9% 66.7% 22.2% 89.9% 66.7%
Wills and Powers of Attorney 85.7% 57.1% 28.6% 85.7% 57.1%
Personal Injury 84.6% 61.5% 23.1% 84.6% 61.5%
Other Family Law 81.9% 81.9% 0.0% 81.9% 81.9%
Relationship Breakdown 79.7% 75.6% 0.0% 79.7% 75.6%
Debt 69.1% 47.6% 16.7% 69.1% 47.6%
Social Assistance 66.6% 33.3% 33.3% 66.6% 33.3%
Employment 59.6% 35.1% 15.7% 59.6% 35.1%
Housing 53.3% 33.3% 20.0% 53.3% 33.3%
Immigration 50.0% 50.0% 0.0% 50.0% 50.0%
Consumer 47.4% 47.4%
Police Action 33.3% 33.3% 0.0% 33.3% 33.3%

c2 = 87.9, p= .004, Phi = .56


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