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Annual Report 2014 - 2015

Justice forums

Legal Aid NSW is a member of several state and national forums that work collectively to find better ways of dealing with key legal issues affecting people's legal rights.

OBJECTIVE: Strong partnerships

National Legal Aid - advising the Commonwealth Government

National Legal Aid provides a forum for legal aid commissions to engage at a national level with governments, stakeholders and the community about best practice in legal aid and related issues.

National Legal Aid (NLA) comprises the directors of the legal aid commissions in each of the states and territories in Australia. NLA is supported by working groups and networks formed by representatives from each of the legal aid commissions.

NLA met in July and October 2014 and March and June 2015. CEOs of the legal aid commissions discussed issues of national strategic significance and advised the Commonwealth Government on the impact of its law and policies.

Key issues discussed during 2014-2015 included:

  • Commonwealth legal assistance reforms - NLA provided a forum for input and negotiation with the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department about key elements of the Commonwealth legal assistance reforms;
  • Commonwealth funding and future arrangements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services;
  • Commonwealth funding for the Expensive Commonwealth Criminal Cases Fund;
  • developing a National Domestic Violence Order Scheme; and
  • reviewing family dispute resolution qualifications.

NLA provided submissions to the:

  • Parliamentary Inquiry into the Child Support Program; and
  • Family Law Council inquiry regarding families with complex needs and the intersection of the family law and child protection systems.

NLA developed a suite of resources, including a national website to enhance the quality of practice, and understanding of the role of Independent Children's Lawyers (see Leading a national project for independent children’s lawyers).

Projects focus on better access to legal services for vulnerable clients

The NSW Legal Assistance Forum (NLAF) brings together key legal service providers across government, non-government and private sectors. It aims to improve service delivery to socially and economically disadvantaged people through better planning, program design and service delivery by providers of legal assistance services.

NLAF members include the peak representative bodies delivering legal assistance, as well as organisations that deal with a range of legal issues that impact on disadvantaged people.

NLAF is chaired by Bill Grant, CEO of Legal Aid NSW. Legal Aid NSW staff participate in or convene all NLAF working groups.

OBJECTIVE: Access to justice

Highlights included:

  • a new working group to improve access to legal services for parents and children involved in proceedings before the courts involving compulsory schooling orders and prosecutions under the Education Act 2013;
  • a discussion paper to address transport issues for indigenous clients released from custody;
  • liaison with State Debt Recovery, providing feedback on their youth policy; and
  • working with Corrective Services NSW to streamline communication protocols between prisoners and legal representatives.

The NLAF meeting also serves as a jurisdictional forum in accordance with the National Partnership Agreement. Representatives of the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department attended the December 2014 and June 2015 meetings to discuss cross-jurisdictional issues.

Further information on NLAF achievements is available at www.nlaf.org.au

New arrangements for prisoner calls

The NSW Legal Assistance Forum (NLAF) Prisoners Forum works very closely with senior staff from Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW), Law Access NSW, Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited, Community Legal Centres NSW and the Prisoners Legal Service of Legal Aid NSW. Achievements include information exchange across the agencies, promotion of the Corrective Services NSW legal information portal, and new arrangements for prisoner phone calls.

With the introduction of new arrangements, Legal Aid NSW recorded a 19 per cent decrease in phone calls over the corresponding period from last year and a 26 per cent decrease since new the protocol commenced in November 2014. LawAccess NSW reported a 40 per cent decrease in call volumes during the period July 2014-June 2015 over the corresponding period last year. During the period 1 January to 31 July 2015, 22 per cent of all calls to LawAccess NSW were from prisoners, representing an 8 per cent decrease over the previous year. For more information, see Streamlining access to legal services for prisoners.

The year ahead

Monitor the implementation of the new National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services.

Identify and address issues arising from the Education Act 2013.