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Annual Report 2014 - 2015

Targeting our work

Legal Aid NSW services are built upon years of experience in assisting clients with complex needs, as well as the findings of research about legal needs and lessons distilled through a culture of evaluative practice.

This year a number of evaluations confirmed that our targeted strategies have been effective in helping more disadvantaged clients to access legal help.

"Almost 90 per cent of assistance provided at migrant resource centres was to clients born in non-English speaking countries, compared to 24 per cent of assistance provided at Legal Aid NSW offices."

Compelling evidence shows we are making a difference

In March 2013, Legal Aid NSW formalised a partnership with Settlement Services International (SSI), to provide legal outreach services at migrant resources centres across metropolitan Sydney, Wollongong and the Central Coast.

The Law and Justice Foundation evaluated the first year of the partnership's operation, reporting increased levels of assistance to culturally diverse people with legal issues. The report found:

  • a number of benefits arose from the partnership. Migrant resource centre staff identified that the service had reduced the burden on government services such as health, child protection services, family services and immigration. They also identified broader benefits such as improved access and equity for a disadvantaged group, enhanced knowledge of the legal system, and increased client ability to contribute productively to the community. The cost effectiveness and efficiency of the arrangements were also noted.
  • the partnership provided an effective pathway to successfully reach culturally diverse clients. Almost 90 per cent of assistance was provided to clients born in non-English speaking countries, compared to 24 per cent of assistance to this group provided at Legal Aid NSW offices. The legal clinics also provided a gateway for clients to access other Legal Aid NSW services and other public and private legal services.
  • The report concluded there was "compelling evidence of the SSI partnership as an effective pathway to clients from culturally diverse backgrounds". As a result, Legal Aid NSW and SSI formally recognised the continuation of the partnership by signing a statement of commitment in December 2014.

This year, the partnership provided improved access to the family law system for culturally diverse clients through eight family law clinics in metropolitan and regional migrant resource centres. Civil law services, including immigration advice services, were offered in six locations. Overall 1,572 civil and 952 family law advice and minor assistance services were provided at migrant resource centres across the state, representing an increase of 47 per cent from 2013-2014.

OBJECTIVE: Strong partnerships

Close examination shows we have increased our reach but gaps remain

Identifying disadvantage to ensure we appropriately target legal services is an important part of our work. Under the Legal Aid NSW Plan 2014-2015, Legal Aid NSW committed to "review provision of legal services in South West, Far West and Northern NSW and identify gaps in legal services experienced by disadvantaged communities in those areas".

Legal Aid NSW conducted an extensive review, consulting with staff and external stakeholders, and considered the research literature and data from the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Australian Bureau of Statistics and NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The review found that Legal Aid NSW responses and initiatives have gone some way to increasing reach in disadvantaged remote communities, however gaps remain. The review put forward a range of options to provide legal services in remote New South Wales.

The review was timely given the NSW Government recently announced the development of a new whole of government model of service delivery and governance for Far West NSW. As part of this Far West Initiative, Legal Aid NSW participated in a Government Agency Forum in Dubbo on 19 February 2015.

Easing the stress for people navigating complex tribunal systems

In 2014, Legal Aid NSW established a pilot duty advice service at the Liverpool registry of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT). The legal service assisted people with matters in the NCAT Consumer and Commercial Division concerning disputes about tenancy, social housing, residential property and supply of goods and services.

The aim of the service was to assist clients at the early stages of their dispute to clarify their legal issues and help reach an early resolution where possible. Legal Aid NSW lawyers provided advice and minor assistance by drafting statements, identifying relevant documents and advising on procedural matters and the merits of applications.

Legal Aid NSW commissioned an evaluation of the pilot duty service, together with an evaluation of duty outreach services operating in the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) and the Administrative and Equal Opportunity Division of the NCAT.

A key finding across the tribunals was that our services enhanced access to the legal system by providing legal advice to disadvantaged people who would not normally access this assistance.

The demographic profile of clients surveyed indicated a high representation of people from groups that are far less likely to report or seek legal assistance. These include people who have disabilities, receive government benefits, are not in the workforce, have lower education levels, are culturally and linguistically diverse, and are from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background.

The client surveys that formed part of the evaluations demonstrated that a significant majority of clients felt that they had received good legal advice.

SSAT outreach service - Tribunal staff said the service added significant value to clients' understanding of the process; and that delivering the outreach service in the tribunal was an efficient use of resources. As a result, tribunal staff were able to service other people in need while clients were able get the support they needed to navigate the system.

NCAT Administrative and Equal Opportunity Division - Tribunal staff were of the view that the presence of the outreach advice increased the efficiency of the tribunal because lawyers were able to provide clients with a realistic assessment of the merits of their case, which reduced vexatious and unmeritorious cases.

NCAT Consumer and Commercial Division - the evaluation found that:

  • eighty per cent of clients surveyed felt the advice provided by our lawyers helped them with the process;
  • ninety per cent said that, apart from the assistance provided by Legal Aid NSW, they had not received any other legal advice; and
  • over 66 per cent said that the duty advice service assisted them to present their case to the best of their ability.

In light of these positive findings, Legal Aid NSW and NCAT are now working together to establish advice services at registries across New South Wales including Penrith, Tamworth and Wollongong.

The year ahead

Develop a proposal for improved service delivery to provide legal services in remote New South Wales.

Engage with the Department of Premier and Cabinet on the Far West Initiative to ensure a coordinated approach to service delivery in remote New South Wales.

Provide education programs to clients experiencing domestic violence as part of the SSI partnership.

Roll out additional duty advice services at NCAT registries in Newcastle, Penrith, Tamworth and Wollongong.

Establish a duty advice service at the Anti-Discrimination Board in Sydney.