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Annual Report 2010 - 2011

CEO's report

"Legal Aid NSW continued to be seen as a leader and innovator in the provision of legal assistance to very disadvantaged people."

Alan KirklandI am pleased to present the Legal Aid NSW 2010-2011 Annual Report.

This has been a year of growth and change for Legal Aid NSW. We began the year with a $10 million funding increase as part of the new National Partnership Agreement on Legal Services (the NPA) and I was delighted with the way in which Legal Aid NSW commenced work under the Agreement. We moved fast, to establish new services and expand the reach of existing services. As a result, Legal Aid NSW continued to be seen as a leader and innovator in the provision of legal assistance to very disadvantaged people.

This year represented the final year of our Corporate Plan 2009-2011 and this report provides an overview of our achievements in the four key focus areas of that plan.

Social inclusion

With additional funding under the NPA we established an innovative Family Law Early Intervention Service and by the end of the financial year, there were already positive signs of its impact on the way in which matters were progressing through the courts.

We also expanded our Government Law practice, which provides assistance in relation to Commonwealth benefits and immigration matters, and expanded the reach of our specialist initiative for people facing prosecution for Centrelink fraud, through the integration of criminal and civil law expertise.

Our unique Regional Outreach Clinic Program was also expanded, to now provide regular legal advice clinics in 13 of the most disadvantaged towns in New South Wales, from Dareton in the Far South West to Macksville on the North Coast.

Access to justice

With additional State Government funding, confirmed by the new Government, we employed additional staff to represent defendants appearing in the new Drug Court in the Hunter in March 2011, and increased the staffing in our Children’s Legal Service, which assists children and young people charged with criminal offences. We also coordinated a pilot of external mediation for families in care and protection matters, referred from Bidura Children’s Court, and funded lawyers to participate in dispute resolution conferences organised by the Court.

This year involved a significant increase in our services for people accused of Commonwealth crimes. A small number of tireless lawyers, from within Legal Aid NSW and in private practice, have provided services to 95 people charged with people smuggling offences. To manage the large influx of these matters, we moved quickly to establish a specialist Commonwealth Crimes Unit, and recruited additional criminal lawyers to manage these complex matters.

In April 2011, I was proud to host the graduation of 10 lawyers from diverse backgrounds who were selected to participate in our family dispute resolution traineeship program. These lawyers, from Vietnamese, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Indian, African and Pakistani communities, are now accredited family mediators, which will allow them to conduct family law mediations and improve links between their communities, legal assistance services and the family law system.

Through 2010-2011, our civil lawyers continued to lead the response to major disasters. Lawyers at the Wagga Wagga office of Legal Aid NSW did a remarkable job responding to the October floods in the Riverina. As a humanitarian gesture, civil lawyers across Legal Aid NSW assisted Legal Aid Queensland to deal with the enormous wave of demand arising from the January 2011 storms, floods and cyclones.

This was also a big year for law reform, and Legal Aid NSW provided the Commonwealth and State Governments with considered, practice-based advice on issues ranging from family violence to juvenile remand. I was particularly pleased with our contribution to discussions about bail law reform, supported by many criminal lawyers who took the time to contribute to our submissions.

Integrated services

Recognising that Legal Aid NSW is but one player in the legal assistance sector, we continued to collaborate with our partners in the sector. Legal Aid NSW staff made an important contribution to the work of the NSW Legal Assistance Forum, which delivered a number of practical improvements in the availability of legal assistance, particularly for prisoners.

I am particularly proud of our long and strong association with the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT, which was strengthened through the development of a new Statement of Commitment, and our agreement to establish three new Field Officer positions to increase access to civil and family law services for Aboriginal people.

We also established a strategic research alliance with the NSW Law and Justice Foundation, to help us to evaluate the effectiveness of our services and build a stronger evidence base for our work.

Organisational flexibility

One of the weaknesses in the capacity of Legal Aid NSW that was identified in the Corporate Plan was around our ability to identify and respond to changes in demand. This has been a particular concern in relation to our criminal law services, where we have had a limited understanding of the factors that have driven growth in expenditure.

In early 2011, I commissioned an analysis of the cost drivers in criminal law expenditure, with reference to BOCSAR and court data. This analysis will help us to work with other Government agencies, to ensure that we have a sustainable funding base and to contribute to reforms in the justice system.

Internal changes

Late in 2010, I commissioned two reviews: one looking at the senior management structure at Legal Aid NSW and another looking at the structure and focus of our Human Resources Management Branch.

These reviews led to some important changes in the executive structure of Legal Aid NSW. This meant that we farewelled two Deputy CEOs, Steve O’Connor and Russell Cox, in December 2010 and our Director of Human Resources, Jennifer Bulkeley. I would like to thank Steve, Russell and Jennifer for their commitment and contribution to Legal Aid NSW.

The changes also saw Patricia O’Farrell join us as Deputy CEO, Operations; Vicki Leaver join us as Executive Director, People and Organisational Development; and Annmarie Lumsden assume the new role of Executive Director, Strategic Policy, Planning and Management Reporting.

Refinement of the structure, to reflect the priorities of the new Attorney General, will be a priority during 2011-2012.

Financial performance

Our expenditure, in line with funding provided by the State and Commonwealth Governments and the Public Purpose Fund, grew from $217.2 million in 2009-2010 to $230.2 million in 2010-2011. This was consistent with the growth in total funding over the past three years, which has seen total approved expenditure, as indicated in the State Budget papers, increase from $193.4 million in 2008-2009 to $241.8 million for 2011-2012. It is unlikely that this unusual rate of growth in funding will be able to be sustained into the future.

The operating result for 2010-2011 was better than budget by approximately $0.2 million.

The year ahead

The work of Legal Aid NSW in 2011-2012 will be driven largely by the priorities of the new State Government.

A review of legal assistance services will guide future decisions about resource allocation and prioritisation, and reviews of bail and sentencing laws are anticipated to have a significant impact on the nature of, and demand for, our criminal law services into the future.

Legal Aid NSW will be guided by a new, two-year corporate plan, which will have a stronger emphasis on supporting staff, particularly those in frontline service delivery roles.

For the public, Legal Aid NSW will present a fresh face through a contemporary, user-friendly website, providing a significantly enhanced range of information about our services.

In closing, I would like to thank everybody who contributed to our significant effort in 2010-2011—the Board, the Executive team and most importantly, our hardworking staff. Every day, staff at Legal Aid NSW are at work assisting people with legal problems or ensuring that our organisation runs effectively. Our justice system would be much poorer without them.

Alan Kirkland
CEO, Legal Aid NSW