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Annual Report 2012 - 2013

Chair's report

Craig Smith

The Board has made a number of difficult decisions to assist with meeting savings targets

On behalf of the Board I am pleased to introduce the 2012–2013 Annual Report

I was delighted to be appointed as Chair of the Board of Legal Aid NSW by the NSW Attorney General in February 2013. The term of the previous Board, capably chaired by the Hon Peter Collins AM QC, ended on 8 November 2012.

This Board oversaw the successful expansion of legal aid services under the Commonwealth National Partnership Agreement. I would like to acknowledge the excellent work and commitment of the Chair and outgoing Board members; the Reverend Harry Herbert, Ian McClintock, Barbara Ramjan and Maria Girdler.

New members of the Board include Annette Bain, Ainslie van Onselen and John McKenzie, who bring a variety of skills and experiences to the role. Several previous Board members have been re-appointed by the Attorney, bringing an important continuity to the activities of the Board.

Stephen Hanley SC, who was appointed to the Board by the Attorney as the representative of the NSW Bar Association in February 2013, was appointed as a judge of the District Court of NSW in June 2013. I would like to congratulate Mr Hanley.

The new Board members bring with them a diverse range of skills from a variety of backgrounds well suited to the important task of providing oversight of the activities of Legal Aid NSW.

Almost sixty-seven per cent of legal aid grants are assigned to the private profession. I acknowledge the work of the private profession and thank those barristers and solicitors who undertake that work, at reduced fees, for the disadvantaged of our society.

Responding to changing needs

Legal Aid NSW, like many government agencies, is required to make savings to meet New South Wales budget targets. Legal Aid NSW is also experiencing increased expenditure pressures from external factors such as a reduction in funding from the Public Purpose Fund, and an increase in District Court trials.

The Board has made a number of difficult decisions to assist with meeting savings targets. These include changes to policies relating to public interest environment matters, Local Court defended hearings and representation at the Guardianship Tribunal. In delivering these savings, Legal Aid NSW has made every effort to ensure that there is no reduction in its services to disadvantaged people across New South Wales.

The Board was pleased to be regularly briefed on legislative changes which impact on the delivery of legal aid services, including legislation on the right to silence and mandatory pre-trial defence disclosure.

In recognition of the priority that Legal Aid NSW places on meeting the needs of Aboriginal people, the Board was delighted to approve the Legal Aid NSW Reconciliation Action Plan. This plan has a focus on building strong relationships with Aboriginal communities, increasing cultural sensitivity and increasing the employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Managing risk

An important function of the Board is to oversee audit and risk for Legal Aid NSW. I am pleased to advise that Phil Bickerstaff has been re-appointed as Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee until 2016, following an assessment by the CEO which found that his performance was of a high standard.

A number of internal audits were completed this financial year including fleet management, business continuity and disaster recovery, information security, and the complaints handling system. The Board will oversee the implementation of recommendations arising from these.

I am delighted to report that there has been a decrease of 63% in the cost of new workers’ compensation claims reported in 2012–2013. This reflects the excellent work that Legal Aid NSW is doing to improve the health and wellbeing of its staff.

The year ahead

The new Board participated in a planning retreat in May this year. The resulting Legal Aid NSW Plan 2013–2014 highlights the collaborative and innovative approach that Legal Aid NSW takes to meeting the legal needs of disadvantaged people in New South Wales.

The year ahead presents ongoing funding challenges which will require difficult decisions. However, I am confident that, by working closely with the CEO and a talented team of Executive Directors, the budget challenges of the next few years will be met without diminishing the high quality services to clients for which Legal Aid NSW is known.

Since commencing as Chair in February this year, I have been impressed by the talent, energy and commitment of the Executive team and staff of Legal Aid NSW. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to chair the Board of Legal Aid NSW.

Craig Smith
Chair, Legal Aid NSW