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Annual Report 2012 - 2013

CEO's report

Given the difficult funding environment we are in, our financial result for 2012–2013 was outstanding.

Bill Grant

I am pleased to present the Legal Aid NSW 2012–2013 Annual Report

Despite the funding pressures that we are currently experiencing, the 2012–2013 Annual Report demonstrates that Legal Aid NSW continues to be a creative and forward thinking organisation, with a strong focus on service delivery for our clients and good relations with our partners.

I am delighted to report that we exceeded the performance benchmarks in all areas of the National Partnership Agreement with the Commonwealth Government, including increasing our early intervention services by 56% and our total services by 31% since 2009–2010.

With broad geographical coverage and a high volume of legal services, Legal Aid NSW is well placed to identify trends in demand and gaps in legal services and adapt its services accordingly. This, together with a committed client focus and strong service partnerships, makes Legal Aid NSW a leader in the delivery of innovative legal services across crime, family and civil law.

Promoting access to justice

In keeping with our charter under the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979 that we ‘have regard to the need for legal aid to be readily available and easily accessible to disadvantaged persons throughout New South Wales’, one of our priorities is to promote access to justice for disadvantaged people.

Recognising that many vulnerable and disadvantaged people do not have easy access to one of our offices, we have significantly increased our outreach services around New South Wales, providing family and civil law services in over 164 outreach locations.

This approach is seeing positive results, with an 84% increase in the numbers of outreach advice and minor assistance services provided between 2010 and 2012.

Outreach is an important part of our strategy to improve family and civil law services to Aboriginal people, with 21 of our outreach locations targeted to Aboriginal communities. As a result, 11.5% of our outreach services were provided to Aboriginal people. The use of Aboriginal Field Officers has been another very successful strategy to improve our reach to, and links with, Aboriginal communities.

I am particularly proud of the work that has been done in relation to the Legal Aid NSW Reconciliation Action Plan, launched by the Attorney General in 2013. This plan outlines our strategies to increase access to family and civil law services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as increasing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working at Legal Aid NSW.

We responded quickly to the High Court decision in Muldrock v The Queen to review the sentences of over 1,000 prisoners for whom a standard non-parole period was applied. Appeals have been prepared for filing in 67 of the most meritorious cases.

In a ground-breaking pilot aimed at reducing breaches of Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVOs), Legal Aid NSW is providing advice and minor assistance to defendants in ADVO matters at Burwood Local Court. I am pleased to report that we have partnered with the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research to evaluate this pilot.

Pursuing excellence in legal services

Ensuring high quality legal services for our clients is central to how we do our business.

An important component of ensuring excellence in our services is to regularly evaluate and review our services and systems to assess their effectiveness and efficiency. I am pleased to report that we carried out a number of important reviews of our services, including an evaluation of the Family Law Early Intervention Duty Lawyer Service; a review of outreach services, including the Regional Outreach Clinic Program; and a review of the Cooperative Legal Service Delivery Program.

I would like to acknowledge the important role of private lawyers in delivering our services under the mixed model of service delivery. In 2012–2013 we increased the number of lawyers on panels by 10%. We also introduced the Metropolitan Duty Scheme to ensure a consistent approach to the allocation of back-up duty work at Local Courts in the Sydney region. The Scheme will be expanded to regional locations in 2013–2014.

Legal Aid NSW continues to be committed to providing excellence in legal services to Aboriginal clients. For this reason, we ran Aboriginal cultural competency workshops for our staff and private lawyers around New South Wales which focussed on developing practical skills.

Supporting our people

I am pleased to report that Legal Aid NSW continues to focus on the health and wellbeing of our staff.

Many of our staff work with some of the most disadvantaged people in society, who have complex and often difficult lives.

Within this context, I am pleased to report on a WellCheck program targeted at staff working in service areas where there may be a risk of psychological injury or cumulative stress. This program provides a one-on-one session with a senior psychologist and is designed to intervene before an employee finds themselves in crisis. WellChecks have been carried out with 250 staff to date.

Other initiatives implemented under the Legal Aid NSW Health and Wellbeing Strategy included workshops on building resilience, managing conflict and dealing with difficult clients. In keeping with our commitment to evidence based practice, Legal Aid NSW is participating in a University of New South Wales research project on the health and wellbeing of our staff.

We improved the ability of staff to plan, monitor and evaluate services with the introduction of a new Business Intelligence tool. This tool provides staff with access to a vast range of our service data through easy to use dashboards. It also enables very detailed service provision data to be combined and examined much more readily than before, facilitating improved analysis.

Linking services

Legal Aid NSW works closely with our partners in the government and community sectors to provide linked up services for our clients.

I am delighted about a new collaboration between Legal Aid NSW and Settlement Services International, the first of its kind in Australia. Under this partnership, civil and family lawyers from Legal Aid NSW will provide legal advice services to clients at Migrant Resource Centres as well as offer regular education workshops about the Australian legal system.

This year saw Legal Aid NSW work extensively with partner agencies in the Justice Cluster on projects to improve services. A new interagency group was established to determine the extent of District Court trial backlogs and their causes, leading to initiatives to identify and reduce guilty pleas before trials commence.

Legal Aid NSW has played a pivotal role in the successful implementation of the Work and Development Order Scheme, an excellent example of best practice collaboration across government agencies. This year saw record growth of the scheme following a statewide campaign to increase the number of providers and link vulnerable clients with the program. The partnership between the Department of Attorney General and Justice, State Debt Recovery Office, Legal Aid NSW and the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd has ensured this program’s success.

In times of financial constraint, and in an environment of change, communication becomes even more critical. In 2012–2013, we introduced two important initiatives to improve communication with our partners. Legal Aid News is a monthly e-newsletter providing up-to-date information about Legal Aid NSW services and resources. We also piloted social network channels, using Facebook and Twitter to provide our partners with information about Legal Aid NSW services and found that this was a cost-effective way to improve knowledge of our services, particularly in regional areas.

Financial services

Given the difficult funding environment we are in, our financial result for 2012–2013 was outstanding. Legal Aid NSW met its savings targets with minimal impact on legal aid services, few frontline staff cuts and no impact on services in State crime, which represents the largest area of legal aid expenditure.

In order to meet the substantial savings targets beyond 2012–2013, Legal Aid NSW will continue to adopt a rigorous and considered approach to savings measures, to ensure minimal impact on our client service delivery.

I would like to thank the Board of Legal Aid NSW for their strategic leadership over the last year under Chair Peter Collins until December 2012, and Craig Smith from February 2013. 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 and our partners in the private profession, who work tirelessly to assist disadvantaged people in New South Wales to resolve their legal problems.

Bill Grant
CEO, Legal Aid NSW