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Annual Report 2014 - 2015

Legal Aid NSW Board

A Board with 10 members determines our broad policies and strategic priorities.

The Board of Legal Aid NSW consists of nine part-time members including the Chair, and one full-time member, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Legal Aid NSW.

Part-time Board members are appointed by the New South Wales Attorney General for a period of up to three years, other than the Chair who can be appointed for a period up to five years. All are eligible for reappointment.

Key activities of the Board this year

In accordance with its statutory functions to establish the broad policies and strategic plans of Legal Aid NSW, the Board approved the Legal Aid NSW Plan 2015-2016. The Board also approved the Legal Aid NSW Diversity Action Plan for 2015-2016 and the Reconciliation Action Plan for 2015- 2018. The Board was regularly updated on the progress of the 2014-2015 Legal Aid NSW Plan.

The Crime and Grants Sub-Committee of the Board, established under section 68 of the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979, covers matters dealing with grants of aid, training and development of private lawyers and crime-related funding and policy issues. The Committee met twice and considered a range of issues including the review of the Bail Act, protected disclosures for children, trial delay reduction, and the rolling list court.

The Community Partnerships Sub- Committee of the Board covers civil and family law policies and services, the Community Legal Centre (CLC) Program and other Legal Aid NSW partnerships such as the Cooperative Legal Service Delivery Program and the Aboriginal Legal Services NSW/ ACT. The Committee advises the Board on funding issues affecting legal assistance services, gaps in services, and legal assistance services to Aboriginal clients and clients in rural, regional and remote New South Wales. The Committee met three times and discussed a range of issues including funding, the new National Partnership Agreement and jurisdictional planning.

The Board approved the establishment of a new Legal Aid NSW office at Port Macquarie, which was opened in December 2014.

As part of the audit and risk strategy, the Board approved a three year audit targeting plan. A number of internal audits were completed including Accounts Payable and Payments, Delegations of Authority, ISO27001 Annual Audit, and Community Partnerships which includes the Community Legal Centre Program, the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program, the Regional Outreach Clinic Program and the Cooperative Legal Service Delivery Program.

The Board was kept informed about the progress of the new funding agreement with the Commonwealth Government, and a new five year National Partnership Agreement between the Commonwealth and State was signed in June 2015. The Board also endorsed Legal Aid NSW to continue to undertake the role of Funding Body and State Program Manager for the CLC Program, with an expanded role to act as the Funding Body on behalf of the Commonwealth under the NPA.

In response to a reduction of money in the Expensive Commonwealth Criminal Cases Fund, the Board reluctantly approved changes to the availability of legal aid for some types of Commonwealth criminal, family and civil law cases in December 2014. Following re-instatement of funding by the Commonwealth in February 2015, the Board was pleased to approve a reversal of these changes. The Board continues to closely monitor the availability of funds for those cases.

The delivery of high quality services is a priority for the Board, and members were briefed on a number of evaluations, including reviews of the partnership with Settlement Services International and a review of legal service provision in South West, Far West, North West and Northern New South Wales. The Board will oversee the implementation of recommendations arising from these evaluations.

The Board approved a number of policy and fee scale changes, including a revised contributions policy, a simplified civil law fee scale, changes in fee scales and policies for some care and protection matters, and extension of the current client eligibility policy relating to the Crimes (High Risk Offenders) Act 2006.

There were no emergency decisions required during the year.

Meetings of the Board

Seven meetings were held in 2014-2015. Forty per cent of the Board’s time was spent on governance matters such as audit and risk, strategic reviews and organisational planning; finance and other budget matters took up approximately 30 per cent of the Board’s time; strategic operations, policies and law reform issues took up the remaining 30 per cent of the Board’s time.

Board members’ fees

Part-time Board members are entitled to be paid fees for attending meetings, reading background papers, sitting on committees and representing Legal Aid NSW at meetings with other organisations. No fees are paid to members who are salaried Government employees or who elect to forego payment.

Active on committees

The Board is advised on specific matters by a number of committees. These include the Crime and Grants Sub-Committee, Community Partnerships Sub-Committee and Audit and Risk Committee which advises on budgetary and internal audit matters.

The year ahead

Oversee the implementation of the first year of the five year National Partnership Agreement with the Commonwealth.

Carry out the 2015-2016 internal audit program, including audits of Activity Based Costing, records management and contributions policy changes.

Key challenge

Ensuring that there are sufficient funds to pay for expensive Commonwealth criminal cases in an environment of reduced Commonwealth funding.