Access to Justice

Few people seek legal solutions to their justice problems, worldwide survey finds

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About half of people surveyed from around the world said they experienced a recent civil legal problem, but most did not turn to lawyers and courts.

The study by the World Justice Project found that 49% of people experienced at least one legal problem in the past two years. Among the surveyed group, 29% sought any form of advice, and those who did preferred to turn to family or friends. Only 17% took their problem to an authority or third party to mediate or adjudicate their problem.

Only 29% of those with legal problems recognized that their issue was legal in nature.

Yet the legal problems had a big impact. Twenty-nine percent said they experienced physical or stress-related ill health as a result of the legal problem, while 23% said they lost their job or had to relocate.

The survey, available here, draws on data from a general population poll of more than 100,000 people in 101 countries, including the United States, in 2017 and 2018.

The survey found that the prevalence and severity of problems varies by country, but the most common problems relate to consumer issues, housing, and money and debt. Problems included disputes with landlords, neighbors, utilities, insurers and people providing professional services. Other problems included extortion from a gang or criminal organization, becoming homeless, and difficulty collecting money owed.

In the United States, 66% of those surveyed had experienced a legal problem in the past two years. The most commonly reported legal problems concerned consumer issues (reported by 30%), housing (31%), and money and debt (36%).

Thirty-three percent of those reporting legal problems in the United States were able to access help. Forty-nine percent sought advice from friends and family; 38% turned to a lawyer or professional advice service; and 15% got help from a court, government body or police.

Sixty-eight percent said they felt the process followed to resolve the problem was fair.

The World Justice Project describes itself as, an independent, multidisciplinary organization working to advance the rule of law worldwide. Elizabeth Andersen, WJP executive director, said in a press release that the findings are “a wake-up call to the legal profession and justice sector in rich and poor countries worldwide: Access to justice is a fundamental quality of life issue and our justice systems are failing people with often dire consequences.”

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