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Annual Report 2014 - 2015

Emerging justice partnerships contribute to an efficient justice system

Agreements with courts and partner agencies will improve outcomes for our shared clients and, in some cases, offer alternatives to court.

Inter-agency work examined court efficiency and how we can partner to deliver cost effective, high quality services to mutual clients.

OBJECTIVE: Excellence in legal services

Partner agreement aims to make best use of limited resources

The Public Defenders are the primary source of counsel's services to Legal Aid NSW in criminal indictable matters. The Department of Justice is the funding body for the Public Defenders.

This year, Legal Aid NSW and the Public Defenders signed a new service level agreement that outlines mutual obligations in the common commitment to provide high quality advocacy and advice for people charged before the criminal courts.

Demand for the services of Public Defenders exceeds available resources. The purpose of the agreement is to make the best possible use of these limited resources. The agreement covered priorities of work and schedules for allocations, including providing representation in matters on short notice, and early involvement of Public Defenders in complex committal matters.

OBJECTIVE: Strong partnerships

Diverting high users of legal aid services away from court

Legal Aid NSW has partnered with the Children's Court of NSW to trial a new diversionary process for young people at Parramatta Children's Court. It is part of the broader High Service Users Project for young people with complex needs.

Under the trial, young people who are likely to become recurring offenders and who are identified as being potential high users of Legal Aid NSW services are diverted from court and referred to the Western Sydney Integrated Case Management Panel managed by Family and Community Services.

The panel includes representatives from Juvenile Justice, the NSW Police Force, Corrective Services NSW, Family and Community Services, Mental Health, Education, Housing NSW and other government agencies.

The trial is driven by a commitment to diversion and rehabilitation and a multiagency approach to helping young people avoid frequent contact with the criminal justice system. If this trial is successful, we will consider whether it should become a permanent initiative.

The results to date suggest a reduction in matters presenting at Parramatta Children's Court for children living in residential care facilities, quicker finalisation of court matters for identified 'complex needs' children, and an increase in appropriate and timely referrals to our Children's Civil Law Service. We are also seeing improved collaboration between Legal Aid NSW and service providers. A Law and Justice Foundation evaluation will assess its success and propose improvements.

Koori Court for young Aboriginal people with complex needs

The first Youth Koori Court in New South Wales opened on Friday 6 February 2015. It is a 12-month pilot which has been set up in Parramatta Children's Court with a focus on diversion and reducing criminal offending by providing a culturally appropriate way of dealing with young offenders. A key feature of the Youth Koori Court involves setting up strong supports to address identified risk factors for the young person.

The Legal Aid NSW Children's Civil Law Service (the CCLS) has formed a partnership with the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) and the Youth Koori Court so that all young people who have been assessed as suitable for participating in the court are referred to the CCLS. This is a targeted referral partnership given that the young people who are eligible for participation in the Youth Koori Court have been identified as having multiple and complex needs.

CCLS involvement allows for early intervention around other legal issues that may be affecting the young person and includes assistance with civil law problems such as fines, advocacy with leaving care entitlements, complaints against authorities, and alternative dispute resolution with residential out of home care providers.

Since May 2015, a Legal Aid NSW lawyer has attended Youth Koori Court every Friday and conducts a legal health check assessment of other legal issues that are impacting on the young person. Ongoing collaboration with the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ ACT) ensures that there is a wraparound legal service for the young person, providing links to other support throughout the Youth Koori Court process. This has resulted in some positive outcomes for our clients, as demonstrated by the following case study: 

Simon's story

Simon, now 18, had been removed from his parents and placed in foster care from the age of three. When he was 16, his placement with his foster carer broke down and Simon began couch surfing with friends and other family members. When Simon was accepted into the Youth Koori Court Program, the Children's Civil Law Service was able to assist by:

  • successfully making a submission to FaCS for funding for intensive case management support to Simon after he turns 18;
  • assisting Simon to draft a leaving care plan suitable to his needs (this plan sets out the entitlements available to Simon after leaving care); and
  • successfully negotiating for a waiver of $4,500 in fines debt.

Cost effective measures for first court appearances

Audio-visual link (AVL) continues to be a growing tool in ensuring access to justice and providing cost-effective legal representation. AVL is primarily used in providing advice and taking instructions from persons in custody charged with criminal offences.

We participated in a number of crossagency foundation projects, including first court appearances by AVL for persons in custody from Corrective Service Centres and police stations. The foundation projects are part of the wider Justice AVL Consolidation Audio- Visual Links project that promotes the effective use of resources, facilities and technology to improve service and justice outcomes.

The rising prison population, limited AVL suites, the constant movement of prisoners and the cancellation of bookings have provided challenges this year. These have been eased by new initiatives including testing mobile devices for AVL conferences, connection to the Dawn de Loas Correctional Centre, an increase in our AVL unit's capacity, improved technology, and introducing telephone legal appointment bookings with clients in custody.

Piloting a new approach in the District Court

"A new flexible and efficient Rolling List Court allows for early case management."

Two defence and two prosecution teams are working exclusively on legally aided matters before one permanently assigned judge.

The pilot court is named the "Rolling List Court" as the court is able to deal with matters flexibly and efficiently thanks to the structure put in place by these two teams and a permanent judge. Both teams have a Public Defender and a Legal Aid NSW lawyer who always work with the same Crown Prosecutor and Public Prosecutions lawyer. The teams are allocated matters immediately after committal for trial and are able to begin immediate discussions about either further negotiations or trial issues. Each team remains with the matter until completion.

This structure has allowed for early case management by both parties. Early identification of issues by the teams has helped with identification of matters that do not proceed, charge negotiations and ways to reduce the length of trials. Having the same legal teams has also allowed a large degree of flexibility for when matters can be set down for trial, legal argument or sentence.

The pilot is proceeding well with 28 matters before the Rolling List Court in the first three months of operation. The catchment area of the program has also been extended to include Parramatta, Penrith and Campbelltown matters.

The pilot program started in April 2015 and is being evaluated by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

Better communication with clients at the Family Law Courts

To improve collaboration and understanding between Legal Aid NSW and Family Law Courts, Legal Aid NSW commenced a stakeholder's forum. A group consisting of judicial officers, court administrators and inhouse Legal Aid NSW representatives meet to facilitate regular communication about a range of service delivery issues in order to assist both organisations to best meet the needs of those in the family law system. The main aim of the group is to improve the outcomes for those in the family law system.

More duty advice services at tribunal registries

Following an evaluation of the civil law duty service at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT), an MOU is being developed with NCAT to provide duty advice services at NCAT registries in Penrith, Wollongong, Tamworth and Newcastle (see Easing the stress for people navigating complex tribunal systems).

A new duty advice service is being established at the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW in Sydney.

The year ahead

Develop local partnerships with the Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS) and Community Legal Centres for implementing care and protection reforms, aiming for a 10 per cent increase in referrals from FaCS.

Introduce initiatives to address the serious District Court trial backlog, including a state wide MOU between Legal Aid NSW and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for the earliest possible resolution of committal matters.

Roll out a new duty service at the Anti- Discrimination Board of NSW.

Sign an agreement with the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to provide duty services at various NCAT registries.