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

Chapter III: At Risk of Unmet Need: The Incidence of Justiciable Problems

The entire sample of 6,665 respondents identified 8,873 justiciable events or problems during the three-year reference period. On average, this is about 1.3 problems per individual for all respondents. The average number of problems reported by the 2,971 respondents who experienced at least one justiciable problem is 3.0. Expressed differently, 44.6 per cent of all respondents reported that they had experienced one or more justiciable problems during the three years prior to the survey. The survey is representative of all Canadians 18 years of age and over. The population group 18 years of age and older represents about 75% of the total population. This is about 25.9 million people based on the January 2006 population estimate of 32.5 millions in the total population. Therefore, out of the 25.9 million Canadians aged 18 and older, about 11.6 million experienced at least one justiciable event or problem during the three-year reference period.

Comparisons with other Surveys

Different surveys employ different time periods within which respondents can report the occurrence of problems. Time frame, along with other factors such as the number of problems queried, the specificity of problem definitions, the methodology employed and, possibly, variations in cultural and other factors affecting the propensity of regional or national groups to report problems can all influence the incidence of problems reported for particular populations. One would expect that a shorter time frame, a smaller number of problems included in the survey and problems that are more narrowly or specifically defined would tend to produce a lower percentage of problems reported and of individuals reporting problems.

The American Bar Foundation Comprehensive Legal Needs Study conducted in 1993, in which 50 per cent of respondents reported one or more justiciable problems[23], and the more recent study carried out in New Zealand in 2006 in which 29 per cent of individuals reported one or more problems[24] asked respondents to report on problems occurring within the previous year. The Causes of Action studies conducted in the U.K. in 2001 and 2004, in which 36 percent and 33 per cent of respondents, respectively, reported one or more justiciable problems use a three and one half year time frame[25]. The recent Northern Ireland legal needs survey carried out in 2005, in which 35 per cent of respondents reported at least one problem, employed a three-year time period.[26]The Paths to Justice research carried out earlier in the U.K [27] and in Scotland[28] employed a five-year time period. In these studies 39 per cent and 24 per cent of respondents, respectively, reported at least one problem. The Paths to Justice in the Netherlands research carried out in 2005, employing a five-year time frame, reported 67 per cent of respondents with one or more problems.[29] A survey carried out in Japan in 2005 reported that 19.5 per cent of the population had experienced one or more justiciable problems during a five-year period.[30]

There is no clear advantage in choosing one time period over another. The practical advantage in employing a longer timeframe is that the larger number of problems facilitates more detailed and sophisticated tatistical analysis. However, the resulting lack of standardization makes the results difficult to compare.

Not all of the observable differences in incidence are attributable to the time frame. However, the time frame is the factor that can be most easily adjusted to produce an estimate of the incidence of problems that is comparable to the results of other surveys. The present study was carried out in March 2006 and employed a three-year time frame. Because the year in which the problem occurred was recorded it is possible to produce an estimate of the number of individuals experiencing one or more problems for a shorter time period to allow a degree of comparability with some other surveys. Thus, recalculating the incidence of problems for a fifteen month period, covering 2005 and January to March 2006, 26 per cent of Canadians experienced one or more justiciable problems. Keeping in mind that the time period is only one factor that influences basic incidence rates, the 26 per cent figure is slightly lower than the 2006 New Zealand estimate and considerably lower than the 50 per cent in the American survey conducted in 1993

The Incidence of Justiciable Problems

Not all problem types occur with equal frequency, nor are individuals equally likely to experience different types of justiciable events. Table 6 shows the incidence of respondents experiencing at least one justiciable event in each of the fifteen problem categories and an estimate of the number of people in the population who have experienced all justiciable problems.[31]

Table 6: The Incidence of Civil Justice Problems
Problem Category Percent of Respondents Reporting at Least One Problem in the Category Number of Respondents Estimated Number of People in the Population (95% Confidence Interval)
Consumer 22.0% 1469 5,698,000 (5,441,700 to 5,954,400)
Employment 17.8% 1184 4,619,200 (4,379,000 to 4,859,400)
Debt 20.4% 1356 5,263,600 (5,010,900 to 5,516,300)
Social Assistance 1.2% 78 310,800 (241,700 to 380,100)
Disability Benefits 1.0% 66 259,000 (196,300 to 321,700)
Housing 1.7% 116 440,300 (361,900 to 518,700)
Immigration 0.6% 40 155,400 (105,100 to 204,700)
Discrimination 1.9% 130 492,100 (408,000 to 575,300)
Police Action 2.0% 133 518,000 (429,900 to 660,100
Family: Relationship Breakdown 3.6% 239 932,400 (815,900 to 1,048,900
Other Family 1.4% 93 362,600 (287,542 to 437,658)
Wills and Powers of Attorney 5.2% 348 1,346,800 (1,197,300 to 1,482,827)
Personal Injury 2.9% 192 751,100 (646,800 to 855,500)
Hospital Treatment or Release 1.6% 108 414,400 (337,700 to 491,100
Threat of Legal Action 1.2% 82 310,800 (245,100 to 376,400)

The main feature of the overall pattern of justiciable problems is the predominance of consumer, employment and debt problems. About one fifth of the adult population can be expected to experience at least one problem in each of these three problem categories within a three-year period. There is a very large gap in terms of incidence between the top three problem types and all others. Fourth, following the top three categories, about 5 per cent of the population can be expected to experience problems related to wills and powers of attorney. Family law problems relating to relationship breakdown, separation divorce, child custody and related problems, rank fifth with about 3.6 per cent of the population experiencing one or more justiciable problems of this type. Finally, almost 3 percent (2.9%) can be expected to experience a justiciable problem related to a personal injury within a three-year period.

The numbers and percentages in the sample represent large estimates of the absolute numbers of people experiencing justiciable problems in the population. The estimated numbers of people who experience consumer, employment and debt problems is very large, numbering in the range of 4 ½ to 5 ½ millions within a three-year period. Even the small percentages and numbers at the sample level represent large estimated numbers of Canadians experiencing justiciable problems. Based on the sample data, over 1.3 million people can be expected to have one or more problems related to settling wills and establishing powers of attorney. An estimated 932,000 will have a family law: relationship breakdown problem. Just over 750,000 can be expected to have a justiciable problem related to a personal injury.

The Prevalence of Justiciable problems

Table 7 shows the frequency of problem types reported by respondents and the frequency of each problem type as a percentage of all problems. The patterns of occurrence of justiciable problems measured in terms of the incidence of problems experienced by individuals shown in Table 6 and the prevalence of problems shown in Table 7 are similar. Debt, consumer and employment problems are the three most frequently occurring problems. Family law: relationship breakdown problems, problems involving wills and powers of attorney and justiciable problems related to personal injury are the three most frequently occurring problem types.

The rank ordering of problem types is slightly different comparing Tables 6 and 7. The percentage of respondents experiencing one or more employment problems is smaller than the proportion that employment problems comprise of all problems. This indicates a greater tendency for people to report multiple employment problems compared with other problem areas. Family law: relationship breakdown is the most common problem type for which people experience one or more problems. The situation is similar with respect to family law: relationship breakdown problems. About 7.7 per cent of all problems are within the relationship breakdown category. About 3.6 per cent of individuals experienced one or more relationship breakdown problems. Similar to the situation with employment problems, this indicates that people are likely to experience multiple relationship breakdown problems. On the other hand, the percentage of individuals experiencing at least one personal injury problem and the number of personal injury problems as a percent of all problems are about the same. This is evidence of few multiple problems, as one might expect. Multiple problems will be examined more closely in chapter five.

Table 7: The Prevalence of Civil Justice Problems
Problem Category Number of Problems in Each Category Problems in Each Category as Percent of All Problems
Consumer 1723 19.4%
Employment 2280 25.7%
Debt 2068 23.3%
Social Assistance 91 1.0%
Disability Benefits 101 1.1%
Housing 255 2.5%
Immigration 82 0.9%
Discrimination 201 2.3%
Police Action 303 3.4%
Family: Relationship Breakdown 661 7.7%
Other Family 133 1.5%
Wills and Powers of Attorney 446 5.0%
Personal Injury 270 3.0%
Hospital Treatment or Release 164 1.8%
Threat of Legal Action 95 1.1%
Total 8873 100.0%

The Most Frequent Problems

The occurrence of specific types of problems is very unevenly distributed. A few specific problems make up a disproportionate share of all problems. Table 8 shows the 80 specific problems ordered from the most to the least frequent. Just 5% of all specific problems make up 25% of all problems mentioned by respondents. These include four specific problems, two in the consumer category and two in the debt category. Consumer problems were ones in which repairs or renovations were unsatisfactory and the service provider failed to set things right and in which large purchases in which the seller would not honour a warranty. The two types of debt problems involved a dispute over a bill or invoice and collecting money owed. About 12.5% of the specific problems, ten problems falling within three problem categories, represent 50% of all problems reported by respondents. This adds four employment problems one consumer and one debt problem. Relationship breakdown problems and problems related to wills and powers of attorney are included in the top 50 % of all problems. Twenty-one specific problems, or 25.3% of all problems mentioned, make up 75% of all problems. This adds eleven problems to the ten already listed, notable police action and personal injury problems to the three problem categories already making up 50% of all problems. The remaining 59 specific problems, or 73.8% of all specific problems in the questionnaire, represent the remaining 25% of all problems reported by respondents.

Table 8: Most Frequently Occurring Problems

Specific Problems in According to Frequency of Occurrence
Problem Type % Cum. %
1.Consumer,repairs 7.48 0.00
2.Debt,dispute over bill 6.66 14.14
3.Debt,collecting money owed 5.32 19.46
4.Consumer,large purchase 4.87 24.33
5.Debt,collection agency 4.81 29.24
6.Employment,wages owed 4.64 33.79
7.Employment,health and safety 4.54 38.33
8.Consumer,services 4.37 42.70
9.Employment,unfair disciplinary 4.01 46.71
10.Employment,harassment 4.00 50.72
11.Employment,unfair dismissal 3.60 54.31
12.Debt,unfair refusal of credit 3.32 57.64
13.Consumer,product safety 2.69 60.33
14.Employment,benefits denied 2.65 62.98
15.Consumer,insurance claim 2.28 65.25
16.Employment, EI claim 2.25 67.51
17.Power of Att,medical 2.18 69.68
18.Rel.Breakdown,separation 1.60 71.28
19.Power of Att,financial 1.32 72.60
20.Rel Breakdown,custody 1.21 73.81
21.Rel Breakdown,divorce 1.21 75.01
22.Rel Breakdown,division of property 1.16 76.17
23.Rel Breakdown,child support 1.13 77.30
24.Wills,dispute about will 1.04 78.34
25.Police Action, verbal threat 1.03 79.35
26.Police Action, unfairly stopped 0.95 80.31
27.Hospital Treatment, care in hospital 0.92 81.24
28.Debt, bankruptcy 0.91 82.15
29.Personal Injury, at work 0.89 83.04
30.Rel Breakdown, spousal support 0.76 83.79
31.Housing, repairs 0.74 84.54
32.Personal Injury, in public place 0.70 85.24
33.Personal Injury, medical treatment 0.69 85.92
34.Discrimination, race 0.64 86.57
35.Personal Injury, traffic 0.61 87.17
36.Police Action, unreasonable arrest 0.61 87.78
37.Legal Action, threatening letter 0.59 88.37
38.Hospital Treatment, care after release 0.56 88.93
39.Police Action, physical threat 0.56 89.50
40.Social Assistance, obtaining or amount 0.54 90.04
41.Discrimination, age 0.50 90.53
42.Wills, inheritance 0.50 91.03
43.Legal Action, court 0.48 91.51
44.Other Family, guardian 0.46 91.98
45.Other Family, legal rep for child 0.43 92.40
46.Disability Pension, Canada pensiond 0.42 92.82
47.Disability Pension, provincial 0.39 93.22
48.Discrimination, disability 0.39 93.61
49.Rel Breakdown,restraining order 0.39 94.00
50.Discrimination, gender 0.35 94.35
51.Housing, utilities 0.34 94.69
52.Immigration, perm residence 0.30 95.00
53.Social Assistance, other types 0.30 95.30
54.Housing, property standards 0.29 95.59
55.Housing, harassment 0.28 95.88
56.Housing, amount of rent 0.28 96.16
57.Other Family, suspension from school 0.28 96.44
58.Housing, property boundaries 0.27 95.71
59.Police Action, physical assault 0.27 96.98
60.Discrimination, religion 0.25 97.23
61.Housing, eviction 0.25 97.48
62.Other family, child apprehension 0.21 97.69
63.Disability Pension, worker's Compensation 0.20 97.89
64.Immigration, sponsor family 0.19 98.08
65.Hospital release, discharge 0.18 98.26
66.Hospital Release, conditions after discharge 0.18 98.44
67.Social Assistance, old age pension 0.18 98.63
68.Housing, lease 0.16 98.78
69.Personal Injury, crime 0.16 98.94
70.Housing, rent deposit 0.15 99.09
71.Discrimination, sexual orient. 0.14 99.22
72.Immigration, citizenship 0.14 99.36
73.Disability Pension, private 0.12 99.48
74.Housing, mortgage foreclosure 0.11 99.59
75.Other Family, child abduction 0.11 99.71
76.Immigration, student visa 0.09 99.80
77.Immigration, legal assistance 0.07 99.86
78.Immigration,humanitarian 0.06 99.92
79.Immigration, judicial review 0.06 99.98
80.Immigration, refugee claim 0.02 100.00

Justiciable Problems and the Risk of Unmet Need

The objective of this research is to understand unmet need for assistance of legal problems. It was mentioned earlier that the incidence and patterns of justiciable events or problems are important because this provides the framework for studying aspects of unmet need. However, the patterns of justiciable problems are important in themselves. This is because they do not occur randomly. They are not evenly distributed among the population, and thus the risk of unmet need is similarly not evenly distributed. It is important to understand how the risk of unmet need varies within the population. This section of the report examines the factors that describe the landscape of justiciable problems in Canada.