Lawstuff was established in April 1997 following a thorough analysis of the needs of young Australians, particularly those in rural and remote areas, for access to basic legal information.
Nationwide surveys confirmed the high usage of the Internet by young people, particularly from access points in schools, public libraries and other services. Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that in the 12 months prior to November 1999, 73 percent of young people aged between 18 and 24 years accessed the Internet, compared to 16 percent of adults aged 55 years or over. In addition, a 1997 A C Neilsen nationwide survey revealed that 45% of young people aged between 14 and 17 indicated that they had previously accessed the internet, and of these 68.5% had accessed the internet in the previous month. Internet usage by young people has outstripped the national average, and it is now the most significant cyber demographic nationally.
Lawstuff was the first legal website of its kind for children and young people, providing detailed information - by State and Territory - on a range of issues of particular relevance to young Australians. Importantly, the site presents the information in a way that is appropriate and relevant to young people, using cartoons and short stories to encourage users to ask questions and make informed decisions. It also allows users freedom to access information directly relevant to them. This form of "self advocacy" is critical in enhancing young people's access to justice.
The site has come to support over 1400 pages on issues including: workplace violence and harassment, discrimination, rights at school, motor vehicle regulations, employment law and criminal law. Each section is accompanied by a list of contacts, animations, and useful links.
In October 1998, LawMail was added to the site, enabling young people to send their legal inquiries through to legal staff at the Centre.
Since going online, Lawstuff has attracted well over 5 million hits. In 2000 alone the site saw a significant increase in traffic, with over 2 million hits, and over 100,000 user sessions.
The site has proved an important mechanism in overcoming the tyranny of distance and scarce resources. For young people, such a legal information facility, being anonymous and inexpensive, allows them to exercise self-help.
The NCYLC continues to maintain the site's profile among Australia's children and young people, and identify further innovative online methods for legal service provision.