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Annual Report 2014 - 2015

Contributing to law reform

Legal Aid NSW is in a unique position to contribute to law reform at state and national levels given our experience and expertise in representing socially and economically disadvantaged people who have come in contact with the justice system.

In 2014-2015, Legal Aid NSW made three family law, eight criminal law, seven civil law, and seven general law reform submissions. Further details appear in Appendix 7.

OBJECTIVE: Strong partnerships

Criminal law - capturing frontline experience to inform law reform

Legal Aid NSW actively participates on a number of interagency committees and forums concerning bail, prisoners' issues and domestic violence. The criminal law practice had representatives on the Bail Act Monitoring Group at the Department of Justice over the last year. We contributed to the implementation of the Bail Act 2013 and the significant changes that commenced on 28 January 2015.

We were involved in consultations about potential issues with the new bail legislation, for example regarding bail conditions for accused persons who wish to participate in residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs as conditions of bail. Consultations took place with His Honour Judge Hatzistergos in relation to the review of the Bail Act 2013. The practice provided significant training in the area of bail. This training and information program was delivered state-wide and included resources on the Legal Aid NSW website which is updated regularly with recent cases and developments.

Two Children's Legal Service lawyers are members of the Law Society of NSW Juvenile Justice Committee. This Committee considers and reviews law and policy affecting children in the criminal justice system, and works closely with the Criminal Law Committee. Four of our senior lawyers and practice directors are members of the Law Society of NSW Criminal Law Committee.

In late 2013, Legal Aid NSW established the Criminal Law Consultation Group, comprising Legal Aid NSW frontline criminal lawyers from a cross-section of practice areas, grades and regions. Now in its second year, this group plays a key role in capturing 'frontline' experience of Legal Aid NSW lawyers and informing contributions to law reform processes.

In 2014-2015, we made submissions to the NSW Law Reform Commission, NSW Parliamentary inquiries and the NSW Sentencing Council. In addition to the submissions listed in this report, Legal Aid NSW provided feedback and comments to the Department of Justice concerning a number of legislative reviews relevant to our expert knowledge and frontline experience.

Family law - issues affecting children and domestic violence prevailed this year

The family law practice contributed to a number of law reform submissions, including submissions which cut across the criminal, family and civil practice areas. Staff participated in a number of interagency law reform committees.

Family lawyers were actively involved in a number of committees concerning domestic violence legal issues, and provided comments to the Department of Justice concerning the NSW Government Domestic Violence Strategy and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.

The practice contributed to the National Legal Aid submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Child Support Program and gave evidence at the associated Public Hearing in August 2014. The practice was a member of the Department of Human Services Child Support State Stakeholder Engagement Group.Our family lawyers made a contribution to law and policy issues affecting children, in particular the development of principles for the representation of children published by the Law Society of NSW. They were part of the Children's Court Advisory Committee and Children's Court of NSW Stakeholder Working Group.

We also monitored the development and implementation of the Working with Children Check legislation.

Civil law - a state-wide protocol to reduce the criminalisation of young people

The civil law practice contributed to a number of law reform submissions, initiatives and working groups. The Children's Civil Law Service worked in partnership with the NSW Ombudsman's Office towards developing a state-wide protocol (the Protocol to Reduce the Criminalisation of Young People in Residential Out of Home Care). This proposed protocol grew from work done by a working party facilitated by Legal Aid NSW and the Western Sydney Residential Providers Forum (made up of representatives of the NSW Police Force and nongovernment organisations). Next financial year, we will seek to reach agreement and multi-agency sign off so that the protocol can be embedded in practice across New South Wales.

The Human Rights Group assisted with submissions to NSW Parliament concerning the Review of Police Oversight Powers.

The practice was involved in the Hand-Up Project Advisory Group which is an innovative pilot project of Bridge Housing for the management of rent arrears. Legal Aid NSW also participates in the New South Wales Legal Assistance Forum Fines and Traffic Working Group.

We have representatives on the Work and Development Order Scheme Governance Group, which includes representatives from the Department of Justice, State Debt Recovery and the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT).

The year ahead

Contribute to law reform processes on issues that affect the involvement in the justice system of socially and economically disadvantaged people, including any law reform initiatives in response to domestic violence.