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Annual Report 2010 - 2011

Partnerships with private lawyers

The Grants Division of Legal Aid NSW (Grants) receives, determines and manages legal aid applications.

It is a high volume work environment. The vast majority of the work is submitted and managed electronically and there is regular telephone contact with legal aid clients and lawyers.

Fact file
Total staff 78

Legal Aid NSW received 48,337 applications for legal aid comprising:

  • 27,431 applications in criminal law
  • 18,077 applications in family law
  • 2,829 applications in civil law
3,460 appointments on 11 panels
43.7% of all legally aided case and duty services were provided by private lawyers


"Panel appointments ensure that we can provide representation and assistance to clients appearing at any criminal court in New South Wales."

Panel arrangements for private lawyers undertaking legal aid work now apply across all areas of law. Panels aim to improve the delivery of legal aid services to the community as well as our relationship with private lawyers. On appointment to a panel, lawyers sign a service agreement and agree to comply with practice standards and audit arrangements. They are then able to undertake legal aid work in the areas of law covered by the panel.

Graph of lawyer appointments on panels 5 year trend

During 2010-2011, panels operated in General Family Law, Care and Protection, Independent Children’s Lawyers, General Criminal Law, Serious Criminal Law, Children’s Criminal Law (specialist Children’s Courts), Prisoners Legal Service, General Civil Law, Mental Health Advocacy, Veterans’ Law and in Specialist Domestic Violence matters.

Graph of private lawyer appointments on panels 2010-2011

Major achievements

Priority 2: Access to justice

We made 510 more appointments to legal aid panels, a 17% increase on last year, bringing the total number of appointments on all 11 panels to 3,460. We have appointed lawyers practising in the Sydney metropolitan area and throughout regional New South Wales. This ensures that Legal Aid NSW is able to provide representation and assistance to clients appearing at any criminal court in New South Wales.

Law and Justice Foundation research shows that more than 93% of New South Wales lawyers work in Sydney, the Hunter or the Illawarra and only 6.6% practise in rural, other regional or remote areas. Forty-eight percent of lawyers appointed to Legal Aid NSW panels were in regional areas.

Panel lawyers regional proportionsProportion of panel lawyers practising in metropolitan Sydney and throughout regional NSW

The Specialist Barrister Panel for Complex Criminal Law matters opened for applications between December 2010 and February 2011. This panel is the first of two specialist barrister panels resulting from recommendations made by the Trial Efficiency Working Group. This group was established by the NSW Attorney General in 2008 to identify the causes of the unnecessary length of criminal trials and to evaluate possible solutions.

Barristers appointed to this panel will be eligible to be briefed in legally aided complex criminal matters in the District and Supreme Courts.

Following consultation with the Law Society of NSW and the NSW Bar Association, the Board of Legal Aid NSW approved a criminal law fee scale package in February 2011 which included a higher rate for junior counsel appointed to the Specialist Barrister Panel.

Audit review

Priority 3: Integrated services

The Legal Aid NSW audit strategy assists in monitoring panel lawyers’ adherence to the requirements of the Legal Aid NSW Panels Service Provision Agreements. Lawyers are required to comply with our practice standards, policies and guidelines.

The strategy addresses both financial and service provision risk factors by using a series of checks against the various panel provisions.

In addition to our existing file audits, we have now introduced ‘spot checks’, calling on lawyers to forward clients’ financial documents in selected matters so we can check compliance with the verification of means policy.

The initiative has promoted discussion regarding lawyers’ responsibilities for ensuring the accuracy of financial information disclosed by the client on an application for aid. ‘Spot check’ audits have also identified the need to review policies dealing with the verification of clients’ means.

An ongoing focus of the audit strategy is working with panel lawyers to assist them in meeting their responsibilities to Legal Aid NSW by making relevant resources easily available. This year the first of a series of guides to claiming fees was developed for lawyers in the area of general criminal law and published on the Legal Aid NSW website.

Monitoring service agreements

Priority 3: Integrated services

We reviewed appointments to the monitoring committee which makes recommendations to the CEO of Legal Aid NSW about lawyers who have breached their panel service agreement, including suspension or removal from a panel. The committee is comprised of senior private lawyers and barristers nominated by the Law Society of NSW and the NSW Bar Association as well as Legal Aid NSW nominees.

Domestic violence lawyers

"A unique partnership model forms the largest network of professional legal and social welfare services for victims of domestic violence in Australia."

Priority 1: Social inclusion

Since May 2010, Legal Aid NSW has administered the Domestic Violence Practitioner Scheme (DVPS) in 17 Local Courts in the Sydney metropolitan and Central Coast regions. Under the Scheme specialist domestic violence lawyers work in partnership with the local Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS) to assist women and children experiencing domestic violence to obtain effective protection through an ADVO, and to assist in resolving related family law and child protection issues and provide advice on victims’ compensation.

This partnership model is unique to New South Wales and comprises the largest network of professional legal and social services for victims of domestic violence in Australia.

In December 2010, the DVPS expanded to an additional 15 Local Courts, mainly in rural and regional areas. The Scheme now operates in 32 Local Courts. In 2010-2011, 3,179 clients were assisted.

Seventy lawyers have been appointed to a specialist panel to provide services at these courts under the DVPS. Lawyers on the panel adhere to practice standards and attend specialist training (see training details in Appendix 4).

Good guidelines, better communication

Priority 3: Integrated services

We revised the Grants Allocation Guidelines, which determine how work is to be assigned to private lawyers under s 12(f) of the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979. The new guidelines will be published early in 2011-2012.

Private lawyers were kept well informed about the allocation of assigned legal aid work, system enhancements, and changes to policy and procedures.

For the first time, private lawyers who undertake legal aid work were given access to the Legal Aid NSW Learning Management System so they can view and register for courses, online learning activities and annual conferences.

Planning ahead

Year ahead

Implement the Specialist Barrister Panel for Complex Criminal Matters and open a panel for appellate matters in the Court of Criminal Appeal and High Court.

Review our processes for selecting, monitoring and communicating with private lawyers.

Key challenge

Effective operational implementation of the Specialist Barrister Panel for Complex Criminal Law Matters will require clear communication with all criminal lawyers and barristers, as well as new systems and processes.