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Annual Report 2011 - 2012

Public accountability

We are accountable to the public through an appeals system that guarantees procedural fairness and an open and efficient complaints process.

Appealing decisions

Six independent Legal Aid Review Committees (LARC) determine appeals that relate to legal aid applications and grants of legal aid. The Committees each have three members: a person nominated by the Minister; a nominee of the Law Society of NSW and the NSW Bar Association; and a person who is not a lawyer. Committee members are appointed for a period up to two years, and are eligible for reappointment.

This year the review committees held 63 meetings and four teleconferences. The committees allowed appeals in 127 of 1,375 matters submitted, compared to 134 appeals allowed out of 1,393 submitted last year. See table below for details.

Appeal trends over five years

Following increases in the number of appeals over four consecutive years, there was a slight reduction in 2011–2012, with appeals down to 1,375 from a peak of 1,393 in 2010– 2011.

While over the past five years the number of appeals allowed has remained relatively stable, the percentage of appeals allowed as a proportion of total appeals has decreased from 14.4% in 2007–2008 to 9.5% in 2011–2012.

Appeals and outcomes 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012
Law Type Allowed Disallowed Pending Withdrawn Not Appellable Total Appeals Appeals Allowed (%)
Family 101 810 32 2 0 945 10.69
Criminal 18 165 8 6 39 236 7.63
Civil 8 162 17 4 3 194 4.12
TOTAL 127 1,137 57 12 42 1,375 9.51

The total number of family law appeals decreased from 1,019 in 2010–2011 to 945 in 2011–2012 and the number of criminal law appeals increased from 188 to 236. There was a slight increase in the number of civil law appeals over the same period.

Appeals and outcomes 5 year trend

The number of ‘not appellable’ appeals (where an appeal is made but there is no right of appeal) substantially increased from 11 in 2010–2011 to 42 this year. There is no record of such appeals prior to 2010–2011 because in previous years ‘not appellable’ appeals were counted as ‘disallowed’.

The Legal Aid Review Committee Secretariat is dedicated to ensuring that applicants are afforded procedural fairness in the process of reviewing appeals. The Secretariat is constantly working to refine its administrative processes to increase efficiency so that we are able to best serve our key stakeholders.

Information about appealing can be found in the Get Legal Help section of the Legal Aid NSW website.

Complaints handling

Receiving and responding to complaints in an open and professional matter is an essential part of our accountability and commitment to providing high quality services.

People can complain about our services, and those of assigned services, in a variety of ways. Complaint forms are available in all Legal Aid NSW offices. Clients can telephone or email us with their complaint.

Total complaints
Type No.
Eligibility 260
Fees issues/wrongful claim fees/overcharging 25
Legal Aid NSW staff or administration issues 48
Private lawyers 70
Systems or processes 50
Quality of legal service 140
Other 11

Note: Refers to the number of complaints, not the number of unique complainants.

We made an online complaint form available on our website in September 2011. The website also has a set of frequently asked questions about making a complaint.

Legal Aid NSW received 604 complaints in 2011–2012. The highest proportion of complaints related to eligibility, followed by quality of legal services.

The 604 complaints in 2011–2012, was higher than the 245 in 2010–2011. The availability of an online complaint form on our website improved the ability to complain and may have been partly responsible for the increase in the number of complaints.

Planning ahead

Year ahead

Introduce an online training module for all review committee members on eligibility policies and committee procedures. A module is also being developed for Legal Aid NSW staff on review committee processes.

Pilot the use of iPads for review committee meetings, to transform the review process to an e-based system, reducing costs, resource intensity and paper waste.

Review our complaints system to ensure that we have appropriate processes in place to enable timely responses to complaints and identify systemic issues arising from complaints.

Key challenge

Establishing a system for more rigorous analysis of complaints, which will be linked to systems and service improvements.