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

Chapter VII: Problem Outcomes

Respondents reported that more than half, 53.9 per cent of all problems had been resolved at the time of the interview. Just over one third, 35.2 per cent of all problems were unresolved. Respondents said that they had abandoned attempts to resolve the problems in 7.8 per cent of all problems. Respondents felt it was too early to tell in about 1 per cent of all cases and did not know in 2.1 per cent of problems.

Figure 12: Problem Outcomes

Figure 12: Problem Outcomes
[Description]

As would be expected, the percentage of problems that are resolved increases with each year. About 40 per cent (40.8%) of problems that occurred within one year of the survey date had been resolved. The percentage rises to 53.4 for problems that occurred between a year and two years prior to the survey and 57.8 per cent of problems occurring between two and three years earlier had been resolved. The patterns of increasing numbers of problems resolved with time drops slightly for problems that first occurred four or more years ago. This pattern is mirrored by the pattern of decreasing percentages of problems left unresolved from one year to the next. The percentage decreases with the length of time the problem began, from slightly under half for problems that began one year ago (49.5%) to a little over one quarter (28.0%) for problems that began two to three years ago. The percentage of problems unresolved that first began four or more years ago in creases to 34.5 per cent.

Of greatest interest are the problems where people abandon attempts to resolve them. The proportion of problems for which respondents said they had abandoned attempts to resolve them increases from 6.5 per cent for problems that are one year old to 10.6 per cent form problems that began between two and three years prior to the survey. Seven per cent (7.0) of problems that began four or more years ago were abandoned.

Figure 13: Problem Outcomes By Number of Years Since Problem Began

Figure 13: Problem Outcomes By Number of Years Since Problem Began[Description]

Problem Outcomes and Problem Types

The problems least likely to be resolved were related to disability pensions. These problems were unresolved in 64.6 per cent of all cases. As well, problems related to social assistance were reported to be unresolved 51.0 per cent of the time. Immigration problems were also reported as unresolved relatively frequently. Most of these problems wee related to gaining refugee status and the percentage reported unresolved, 57.1 per cent, probably reflects the length of the refugee determination process. Problems related to discrimination were also relatively likely to be reported as unresolved at 50.6 per cent. A similar percent age of personal injury problems were reported to be unresolved at the time of the interview, 50.9 per cent. As well, a relatively high percentage of family law problems were unresolved; 49.5 per cent of problems involving relationship breakdown and 48.5 per cent of other family law problems.

Consumer problems are the type in which respondents were most likely to have abandoned attempts to find a resolution; 12.8%. Consumer problems were closely followed by problems related to discrimination. Respondents said they had abandoned attempts to resolve the problem in 12.1 per cent of all discrimination problems. Also a relatively high percentage of respondents, 9.1 per cent, reported they had abandoned attempts to resolve employment problems. Table 43 shows the proportions of resolved and unresolved problems for all problem types.

Table 43: Resolution of Problem Types
Problem Type Resolved Unresolved Abandoned Too Early to Tell Don't Know Total "N"
Consumer 58.3% 27.9% 12.8% 0.7% 2.2% 1480
Employment 55.2% 32.5% 9.1% 1.1% 2.0% 1421
Debt 56.4% 34.6% 5.6% 1.6% 1.8% 1444
Social Assistance 40.8% 51.0% 4.1% 0.0% 4.1% 49
Disability Pensions 29.2% 64.6% 4.2% 0.0% 2.1% 48
Housing 54.7% 35.8% 7.4% 0.0% 2.1% 95
Immigration 37.1% 57.1% 2.9% 0.0% 29% 35
Discrimination 34.1% 57.1% 0.0% 12.1% 2.2% 91
Police Action 65.1% 25.2% 4.9% 1.0% 3.9% 103
Relationship Breakdown 47.1% 49.6% 1.0% 1.0% 1.3% 244
Other Family Law 48.5% 48.6% 0.0% 0.0% 2.9% 68
Wills and Powers of Attorney 52.4% 42.2% 2.1% 0.0% 3.0% 330
Personal Injury 41.6% 50.9% 6.2% 0.6% 0.7% 161
Hospital Treatment and Release 55.8% 31.4% 7.0% 1.1% 4.7% 86
Threat of Legal Action 50.9% 47.1% 0.0% 2.0% 0.0% 51

c2 = 244.8, p = .0001

Problems Resolved, But Unfair Outcomes

Most problems were resolved at the time of the interview. However, a large percentage of the outcomes were perceived by respondents to be unfair. Overall, for all problem types, respondents felt that the outcome of problems they considered to have been unfairly resolved in 44.4 percent of all problems. Respondents felt outcomes to have been fair in 53.2 per cent of all problems. Respondents did not know in a very small 2.5 per cent of all problems.

Again the pattern varies according to problem type. Table 44 shows the perceived fairness for problem types.

Table 44: Perceived Fairness of Problem Outcomes
Problem Types Fair Unfair Don't Know Total "N"
Consumer 45.1% 52.9% 1.1% 1022
Employment 46.7% 50.7% 2.6% 914
Debt 65.6% 32.4% 2.0% 896
Social Assistance 45.5% 50.0% 4.5% 22
Disability Pensions 62.5% 37.5% 0.0% 16
Housing 59.3% 37.3% 3.4% 59
Immigration 78.6% 21.4% 0.0% 14
Discrimination 38.1% 61.9% 0.0% 42
Police Action 31.9% 61.1% 7.0% 72
Relationship Breakdown 66.7% 29.1% 4.2% 117
Other Family Law 45.5% 51.5% 3.0% 33
Wills and Powers of Attorney 68.9% 27.8% 3.3% 180
Personal Injury 54.6% 42.8% 2.6% 77
Hospital Treatment and Release 53.7% 42.6% 3.7% 54
Threat of Legal Action 61.5% 34.6% 3.9% 26

c2 = 164.9, p= .0001

It is perhaps not surprising, although somewhat ironic, that respondents who took no action to resolve their problem were relatively highly likely to perceive that the outcome was unfair. People who took no action for specific reasons as discussed above in chapter five were most likely to perceive the outcome of problems that had been resolved to be unfair. Table 45 shows that people who took no action thinking that the problem was not important enough were also very likely to perceive that the outcome was unfair. Respondents who dealt with the problem were much less likely to perceive outcomes to have been unfair. The percentages were similar for respondents who sought both non-legal and legal assistance. This is a clear indication that taking no action is a poor strategy. Some form of assistance at the outset to help people understand the nature and serious of the problem, and to chose an appropriate course of action is highly desirable. This suggests that some form of active offer of assistance would be desirable to help people who are not inclined to take action to resolve problems. Further, similar to the findings of the Hughes Commission discussed in the previous chapter, this highlights the importance of legal information and knowledge about where readily accessible information can be obtained.

Table 45: Perceptions of Fairness and Courses of Action
Perceived Fairness Action Taken to Resolve Problem
No Action: Not Important No Action: Reason Self-Help Non-Legal Assistance Legal Assistance
Fair 39.5% 31.8% 58.7% 60.0% 56.2%
Unfair 55.6% 64.4% 39.5% 37.8% 41.7%
Don't Know 4.9% 3.8% 1.8% 2.2% 2.1%
Total "N" 243 556 1710 735 324

c2 = 159.9, p = .0001

Unresolved Problems That Became Worse

Another indicator of possible unmet need is a situation in which problems remain unresolved and the situation has become worse or has not improved. Figure 14 shows that among those respondents who said that the problem remained unresolved, 18.6 per cent of respondents indicated that the situation had improved, 12.3 per cent said that the situation had become worse, and the large majority of 65.7 per cent said that the situation had remained about the same since the problem began.

Figure 14: The Consequences of Unresolved Problems

Figure 14: The Consequences of Unresolved Problems[Description]

Focusing attention on a comparison between respondents who said the situation had improved and those for whom the situation had become worse, there is a relation between the action taken to resolve problems and deteriorating circumstances. All other things being equal, the situation improved more than it became worse. However, Table 46 shows that taking some action is more likely to result in an improved situation than in one that deteriorates.

Table 46: Action taken to Resolve Problems and Outcomes
Action Taken to Resolve Problem Situation Improved Situation Became Worse Percentage Difference Total "n"
No Action: Not Important Enough 58.8% 41.2% 17.6% 17
No Action: Reason 53.4% 46.5% 6.9% 101
Self-Help Only 59.8% 40.2% 19.6% 224
Sought Non-Legal Assistance 65.5% 34.1% 31.8% 214
Sought Legal Assistance 57.0% 43.0% 14.0% 128

c2 = 76.3, p= .0001

Seeking some form of non-legal assistance makes the greatest difference in whether the situation improved or not. The percentage difference between the proportion of respondents who sought non-legal assistance compared with the proportion who reported that the situation improved is 31.8 per cent. On the other hand, the percentage difference between the proportion of people who took no action for a reason and reported that the situation had improved compared with respondents for whom the situation had become worse is only 6.9 per cent. Comparing these two groups, the percentage reporting that the situation had improved is greater for the people who sought non-legal assistance compared with those who did not seek assistance. In addition, the difference that seeking assistance made was much greater, a 38.1 per cent difference between matters becoming better compared with becoming worse for respondents who sought non-legal help, compared with those who took no action, a 6.9 per cent difference.

The percentage difference between the situation improving and the situation deteriorating is 19.6 per cent for the self-helpers, 17.6 percent for people who sought no help because they felt the problem was not important enough and 14.0 per cent for people who sought legal assistance. The fact that seeking legal assistance makes the least difference in whether the situation has improved is likely due to the complexity of the problems that people take to lawyers. Also, the legal process can be long due to successive court adjournments and long periods between them. In research examining the problems people experience in accessing the courts, Stratton and Anderson showed that in some cases people indicated that the situation deteriorated when they received legal assistance.[212] The percentage difference between the situation improving and becoming worse for self-helpers is 19.6 per cent. Apparently, if one makes any attempt to resolve a problem it is better than taking no action. There is a smaller percentage difference between the situation becoming better or worse for respondents who took no action because they felt the problem was not important enough compared with either the self-helpers or the no action-not important group.

There appears to be no relationship between experiencing multiple problems and problems remaining unresolved, becoming worse or the outcome of problems being perceived as unfair.

Demographic characteristics of respondents do not predict differences in the various outcomes. Overall, being unemployed is weakly related to abandoning attempts to resolve problems[213] and to perceiving outcomes to be unfair[214]. People with incomes of less than $25,000 are most likely to report that unresolved problems have become worse[215].


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