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Annual Report 2014 - 2015

Reaching communities with limited access to legal services

People living in regional, rural and remote areas can have difficulty accessing legal services.

These communities generally have, in the experience of Legal Aid NSW, higher needs and fewer services than their urban counterparts. Additionally, distance, poverty and cultural barriers may exacerbate difficulties accessing the services that do exist in these areas. Delivering effective legal services is difficult where Legal Aid NSW lacks a presence on the ground and where services are sparse.

OBJECTIVE: Access to justice

Port Macquarie - a new regional hub for legal aid services

Legal Aid NSW opened a new regional office in Port Macquarie in December 2014 to improve access to justice for disadvantaged people across the lower Mid North Coast region from Taree and Forster to Kempsey. This is an area with limited legal services and high legal need. The office is the only Legal Aid NSW office between Newcastle and Coffs Harbour.

The local community has benefited greatly. Lawyers in the new office provided 1,500 advice and minor assistance services in the first six months of operation. The main legal issues included debt, non-consumer loans, family law issues, including who children should live with and spend time with, and property settlements.

The office has a wide reach. Criminal lawyers provided services at Port Macquarie, Taree and Kempsey Local Courts and Port Macquarie District Court, servicing a large catchment area in partnership with the local private profession. Family and civil law advice clinics take place regularly in Port Macquarie, Taree, Kempsey and Forster.

There is a focus on outreach to disadvantaged communities such as Aboriginal people and young people as well as helping people with family law issues to identify their problems earlier.

The office is working closely with the private profession, courts, the Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre, the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ ACT) and other stakeholders.

State-wide outreach advice clinics took us right into communities

Legal Aid NSW continues to strengthen and expand the use of outreach legal advice services to access disadvantaged communities. Over the last five years, regular outreach locations increased by 44 per cent. In 2010-2011, Legal Aid NSW provided regular outreach services in 146 locations. Legal Aid NSW now has a comprehensive network of mobile lawyers and legal outreach services in 210 locations across New South Wales, the majority (154) in rural, regional and remote locations. Locations with regular outreach services for Aboriginal communities have increased from 12 in 2010-2011 to 34 in 2014-2015.

Legal Aid NSW has partnerships with non-legal community and government organisations so that outreach services are provided in places accessible to clients. These include homeless services, Aboriginal Medical Services and community organisations, migrant resource centres, neighbourhood centres, Centrelink, courts and correctional facilities. A number of outreach advice clinics are conducted remotely using web-based video conferencing facilities.

Case study

Advice clinics at Auburn

Legal Aid NSW, in partnership with Auburn City Council, launched a weekly outreach advice clinic at Auburn Centre for Community in May 2015.

The Centre's Coordinator says, "Around 30 local community organisations engage with the Centre to run programs on a regular basis. On average up to 10,000 people may be accessing the Centre per month and many of them can benefit from the free legal advice being offered."

A snapshot of outreach locations

Locations with regular legal outreach services 210
Outreach services for Aboriginal communities 34
Locations with regular legal outreach services in regional and remote areas 154
Locations based in Centrelink offices 7
Locations where clients can access civil law advice* 140
Locations where clients can access family law advice* 111
Locations where clients can access criminal law advice** 40

*Some locations offer advice in more than one area of law
** Includes outreach to correctional centres as well as seven dedicated criminal law advice outreach services.

OBJECTIVE: Strong partnerships

Collaborative projects are breaking down regional isolation

In 2014-2015, 53 joint service projects were undertaken under the auspices of the Cooperative Legal Service Delivery (CLSD) Program across regional, rural and remote New South Wales.

Projects target very disadvantaged areas with high levels of need and rely on local knowledge and networks to make sure they are relevant and useful.

Projects this year included:

  • supporting traffic clinics in Taree and Broken Hill where eligible people receive advice and legal representation with their traffic matters before the Local Courts; and
  • Law Week advice clinics in Bourke and Brewarrina - providing advice about issues such as outstanding fines.

For more examples see Collective enterprise and local service know-how meet client needs.

The year ahead

Provide additional lawyers in Broken Hill and surrounding areas to meet an identified need for better access to legal assistance, particularly in criminal law and care and protection.