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Annual Report 2011 - 2012

CEO's report

Bill Grant CEO Legal Aid NSW

I am pleased to present the Legal Aid NSW 2011–2012 Annual Report.

On my return to Legal Aid NSW in December 2011, I was delighted to see the growth in innovative legal services that had occurred over the last few years, particularly as a result of an increase in funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services. I was also pleased to see that staff mental health and well being had become an organisational priority.

It is my view that Legal Aid NSW is leading the country in a range of areas. Our regional partnerships with other service providers have never been stronger, our responses to changing and increasing demands are quick and highly effective and, in partnership with the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT), we continue to improve our service delivery in order to meet the legal needs of Aboriginal people across New South Wales.

Promoting access to justice

I am pleased that we have continued to deliver another significant growth in services this year. While we have increased our overall services by 14% this year, our advice and minor assistance services have significantly increased. This comes as a result of increased funding from the Commonwealth under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services which requires us to meet service targets for early intervention services.

This year the demand for criminal law services—in both the State and Commonwealth jurisdiction —has increased considerably with corresponding challenges to our budget.

We responded quickly to deliver legal services to more than 100 people who had been charged with people smuggling offences and whose matters had been moved to New South Wales. We worked hard to get matters listed for trial and sentence expeditiously.

We focussed on resolving issues for people who were under 18 years of age at the time of the offence and I am proud that, as a result of the work by both our inhouse and private lawyers, there are no matters pending in New South Wales which involve a juvenile accused person. We have also actively participated in various law reform processes in relation to people smuggling and have a number of appeals in higher courts underway.

Following the decision in Muldrock v The Queen we swiftly mobilised a small team of lawyers who, for a period of 12 months, are reviewing the sentences of prisoners for whom a standard non-parole period was applied. This new team is working closely with Public Defenders and barristers from the private bar. We have also been generously assisted by Corrective Services NSW and the Judicial Commission of NSW.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance we continue to receive from the NSW criminal bar to whom we remain indebted. The successful outcomes we have been able to achieve for our clients would not be possible without their legal expertise.

This year with additional State Government funding we established a service to promote Work and Development Orders which allow disadvantaged people to work off their fines through education, training and volunteer work. The Service is delivered in partnership with the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) and the NSW State Debt Recovery Office. In its first six months the service has made an outstanding impact markedly increasing the number of community organisations in regional areas who are willing to sponsor clients to work off their fines.

Pursuing excellence in legal services

Ensuring our lawyers deliver the highest quality services to clients is critical for Legal Aid NSW. For this reason, this year we increased the number of private lawyers on specialist Legal Aid NSW panels by 13% to ensure quality services for our clients.

Legal Aid NSW continues to be committed to providing excellence in legal services to clients experiencing or involved in domestic and family violence. It is essential for all staff to be able to recognise and respond appropriately to clients who are or have experienced domestic violence.

For this reason, this year we also began delivering Domestic and Family Violence Awareness training for staff.

Supporting our people

I am particularly proud of our initiatives this year to improve staff mental health and wellbeing across Legal Aid NSW. To start, we commissioned a survey in December 2011 to provide us with a baseline snapshot of staff health and wellbeing. We have now begun delivering wellbeing-related resilience training to all staff across Legal Aid NSW. I anticipate that close to 70% of all Legal Aid NSW staff will receive this training by the end of 2012. We are also trialling well-checks and debriefing for front line staff who work in areas of law that are particularly stressful.

I trust that with the activities we are putting in place over the next few years, we can substantially improve staff mental health and wellbeing.

This year we also commenced an iPad trial for a small group of our criminal lawyers. The trial has increased productivity as lawyers can attend to other matters during breaks at court. The use of iPads has also improved services to clients as our lawyers now have a greater range of legal resources at their fingertips while at court.

Linking services

This year we launched our new website which vastly improved information about, and access to, our services. The popular Find a Legal Aid NSW Service function allows community workers, clients and their families to do a postcode, suburb or region search for all services provided by Legal Aid NSW. The website was a finalist in the 2012 Australian Web Awards.

To better inform our partners, particularly private lawyers, we launched a monthly Legal Aid NSW electronic newsletter which sets out information about Legal Aid NSW services, changes to policies and procedures and changes to the law.

"Our financial result for 2011–2012 was outstanding, coming very close to budget."

Financial performance

Our financial result for 2011–2012 was outstanding, coming very close to budget. In achieving this result we had the difficult task of increasing our Commonwealth services as required under the National Partnership Agreement and operating with increased savings targets from our State funds without impacting on service delivery. While we successfully achieved these aims in 2011–2012, we will now need to deal with a more difficult financial position in 2012–2013.

I would like to thank the Board of Legal Aid NSW for their strategic leadership over the last year under its Chair Peter Collins AM QC. I want to thank the Executive team for their support, commitment, vision and hard work over the last year. Most of all I would like to thank the staff of Legal Aid NSW who work tirelessly to assist disadvantaged people in NSW to resolve their legal problems.

 

Bill Grant
CEO, Legal Aid NSW