Go to content

Annual Report 2014 - 2015

Aboriginal community partnerships

The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) (NSW/ACT) is our key partner in delivering legal services to Aboriginal people in New South Wales.

The ALS is a member of the Aboriginal Justice Committee chaired by the Director, Aboriginal Services at Legal Aid NSW.

The Aboriginal Services Unit of Legal Aid NSW is responsible for managing the relationship between Legal Aid NSW and the ALS.

OBJECTIVE: Access to justice

The Aboriginal Field Officer project, established in collaboration with the ALS, engaged with Aboriginal communities by providing minor assistance, community legal education, and referral services to a range of organisations.

As a result of the work of Aboriginal Field Officers, there has been a change in the way Legal Aid NSW operates, providing more flexible services to Aboriginal clients and making practical improvements in the way it responds to client need and getting services to individual clients. The number of Aboriginal clients receiving civil and family law services has increased, and new and regular outreach services have been established with a drop-in approach for Aboriginal clients (see Significant efforts to reach disadvantaged clients and Aboriginal Field Officers).

OBJECTIVE: Excellence in legal services

Improving lawyers' skills in working with Aboriginal clients

For the first time, an Aboriginal kinship and communication workshop was offered in conjunction with the Legal Aid NSW criminal law conference. Private and inhouse lawyers were introduced to particular skills and knowledge to better represent Aboriginal clients in the criminal justice system.

The workshop, conducted by Lynette Riley from the National Centre for Cultural Competence, provided participants with an in-depth understanding of Aboriginal kinship structures. A panel of experts, chaired by Legal Aid NSW Board member John McKenzie, gave advice on communicating with Aboriginal clients in a criminal law context. Sociolinguist Dr Diana Eades presented a paper on potential communication difficulties faced by Aboriginal people being questioned by police or in a court. Over 100 people attended the day and feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

OBJECTIVE: Strong partnerships

Working towards culturally sensitive services

We completed the second year of a joint statement of commitment, maintaining our strong working relationship with the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT). It outlines our roles and responsibilities in ensuring the highest quality legal representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities around the state through coordinated and culturally sensitive legal representation.

Under the agreement Legal Aid NSW funds:

  • three Aboriginal Field Officer positions located at the Walgett and Coffs Harbour ALS offices and at our Campbelltown office;
  • two care and protection lawyers at Aboriginal Legal Service offices and added support for a care and protection field officer; and
  • Work and Development Order field officers at Aboriginal Legal Service offices.

Joining forces to improve access to justice for Aboriginal communities

The Aboriginal Justice Committee maintains our strong partnerships with key agencies delivering legal and justice system services to Aboriginal people and communities. The committee met twice this year to address new and emerging issues within the sector. Members include the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ ACT), Community Legal Centres, Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women's Legal Service, Department of Justice Aboriginal Services Division, and Reconciliation NSW.

In partnership with the Cooperative Legal Service Delivery Program and private law firms, we took instructions for wills, power of attorney and guardianship at the Women's Reconciliation Camp at Saltwater in March 2015. We also worked with the Office of Fair Trading, providing Aboriginal people and communities with information about funerals, insurance and consumer issues.

Good Services Forums at Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Collarenebri, Penrith and Mt Druitt gave us the opportunity to communicate widely with Aboriginal communities alongside a broad range of government services.

Staff of the Aboriginal Services Unit were members of external committees focused on the legal needs of Aboriginal people, including the Women's Advisory Council for Corrective Services NSW, Aboriginal Advisory Forum with Anti- Discrimination Board, the Law Society of NSW Indigenous Issues Committee and the Tenants Union Aboriginal Advisory Committee.

Staff attended major community events, including the Yabun Festival, Ella 7s Rugby Tournament in Coffs Harbour and NAIDOC Week stalls in Sydney and regional locations.

The year ahead

Offer Aboriginal kinship and communication workshops across all Legal Aid NSW legal practices.

Sign a new Statement of Commitment with the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT).