Our research program

What do Victorians know about the law?

What do Victorians know about the law? What are our attitudes to it? And do we know how to take action if we need to?

Our first project is to explore the level of legal understanding in the community, and what factors effect a person’s capacity to deal with a legal problem. Understanding the level of legal capability and attitudes towards justice within the Victorian community is a critical starting point in the delivery of effective legal education and assistance. To help people navigate the law, we need to understand what their starting point is.

We look forward to sharing our findings.

Research program

We have developed a research program comprised of four streams covering both ‘top-down’ (institutional) and ‘bottom-up’ (general public) perspectives. The centrepiece will be a substantial primary research project which will make a valuable contribution to Victorian justice and be world-leading. The four streams are:

1. Mapping justice

Mapping and analysis of legal, dispute resolution and court processes data

Analysis of administrative data makes an important contribution to evidence-based policy making in the justice system. Understanding how matters progress, and what the issues and barriers might be is vital to improving the experience of justice for Victorians. It facilitates monitoring over time, identifies knowledge gaps and highlights areas for intervention and change.

This stream will map the availability and content of institutional data across a broad range of bodies that operate within the civil justice sector, including courts, tribunals, and the legal assistance sector. This will result in an initial report setting out the administrative data landscape in Victoria.

Subsequent research will further explore the quality and utility of data, and will be supplemented by observation processes and qualitative interviews. This stream will intersect with Stream 3: Researching programs and interventions.

2. Surveying legal literacy

The Victoria-wide Public Understanding of Law Survey (PULS)

VLF will conduct a Victoria-wide Public Understanding of Law Survey (PULS) to understand the legal literacy in the Victorian community, exploring what people know about their justice system and its institutions and how they see it playing a part in their lives. Understanding public knowledge of rights, legal capability and attitudes to justice is an essential first step in improving knowledge of rights and responsibilities and ensuring that justice is accessible to all.

The PULS will deliver the tools for monitoring change; identification of areas for improvement in service delivery and intervention; and a baseline for the evaluation of programs. The PULS will reveal strengths and weaknesses in public understanding, deficits in capability and variation in attitudes by topic, demography and geography.

The possible applications of this work in improving access to justice for Victorians are widespread and fundamental. Understanding what Victorians know about the law is vital to developing effective policy and services in an environment where legal need is great, budgets are tight and there will be increasing reliance on citizens to navigate parts of the justice system with little or no formal assistance.

It will also reveal opportunities and challenges for the sector. For example, the practising profession and those involved with community legal education will have a baseline to identify areas of the law where there is need for more support, and to measure change over time.

The research proposed would be the first of its kind in the world, represents a significant advance in empirical access to justice research and would establish an international reputation for VLF in the field. It would be highly complementary to legal needs research as proposed by the Law and Justice Foundation NSW.

3. Researching programs and interventions

Evaluation of need, process, impact and outcome of programs

Legal assistance, education and support services deal with perennial budget constraints. It is important to establish how services or programs function, what works well, what does not, what impact they have and what lessons can be learned. This stream will research and evaluate the need for, process, impact and outcome of services with a strong focus on rigorous empirical methods. It will provide essential information on ‘what works’, with clear application in the design of effective services.

We will conduct both internal (e.g. of specific VLF grants) and external (e.g. in collaboration with courts, tribunals or the legal assistance sector) evaluations.

4. Co-ordinating and sharing research

Research Network

The VLF is not alone in aiming to improve understanding of legal rights and facilitating access to justice, with a broader research community in Victoria, nationally and internationally. The VLF will build a network across the justice, community and academic sectors to share knowledge and encourage collaboration. This will help extend the reach of our work, enhance quality, avoid duplication and learn from the experience of other experts in the field.

If you would like to learn more, contact us.

This page was last updated on August 23, 2019