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Annual Report 2014 - 2015

Public accountability

We are accountable to the public through an appeals system that guarantees procedural fairness and an open and efficient complaints process.

Appealing decisions

Six independent Legal Aid Review Committees (LARC) determine appeals relating to legal aid grants and applications for legal aid that have been refused. They are established under the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979 to ensure our clients have fair and equitable access to legal aid services. Committee members are appointed for a period of up to two years, and are eligible for reappointment.

This year the review committees held 59 meetings and seven teleconferences. The committees allowed 49 of 1,149 appeals submitted, compared to 122 appeals allowed out of 1,467 last year. There was a decrease in the number of appeals lodged across all three program areas. However, the decrease in the number of appeals allowed was mainly due to a significant fall in the percentage of successful appeals, from 8.1 per cent to 4.3 per cent. The percentage of successful appeals fell in all three program areas: 8.3 per cent to 3.6 per cent in family law; 11.1 per cent to 7.4 per cent in criminal law; and 3.3 per cent to 1.9 per cent in civil law. The fall in the success rate of family law appeals had the greatest impact on the total number of appeals allowed, as the majority of appeals submitted were for family law proceedings: 66 per cent last year and 70 per cent this year. See Chart 1 for details.

Chart 1 Total appeals and outcomes by law type 2014-2015
Law Type Allowed Disallowed Pending Not Appellable Withdrawn Total Appeals Appeals Allowed %
Family 29 750 20 2 3 804 3.6%
Criminal 18 153 1 70 1 243 7.4%
Civil 2 96 4 0 0 102 1.9%
TOTAL 49 999 25 72 4 1,149 4.3%

Appeal trends over five years

The average number of appeals submitted to LARC each year over the past five years has been 1,297. See Chart 2 for details.

Apart from the high number of appeals in 2013-2014, there has been a steady decrease since 2010-2011.

Chart showing 5 year trend in appeals and outcomes

Complaints handling

Key measures in this area were to improve complaints data and reporting and introduce a new complaints policy. This included ensuring staff understand and are complying with the complaints policy, and improving channels for feedback to improve service provision.

Complaints data

We received 360 complaints in 2014- 2015 and 184 inquiries from third parties querying another person’s eligibility for a grant of aid. Grant eligibility issues are reported as inquiries as they are not complaints about a Legal Aid NSW service.

The complaints recording process introduced in 2013 means it is now possible to compare complaints data.

The new complaint handling policy was implemented in August 2014 and provides the foundation for ongoing work to establish a consistent and responsive complaints culture across Legal Aid NSW. The new options for online feedback resulted in 27 compliments and 10 suggestions for the 2014-2015 period.

Number of complaints
Issue 2013-2014 2014-2015
Grants – eligibility inquiries 246 184
Grants – refusals 50 311
Inhouse customer service 37 44
Inhouse lawyer 61 67
Staff (other than inhouse lawyer) 7 3
Policy and/or administrative process 29 562
Private lawyer – conduct 57 43
Private lawyer – fees 13 16
Independent Children’s Lawyer 19 20
Mediator – conduct 6 14
Funding allocations 10 513
Other 37 15
TOTAL 326 360
Outcome
Upheld 16 18
Partially upheld 9 22
Not upheld 148 170
Referred to other body 16 16
Response to Minister’s Office or Community Relations Unit 62 913
Referred to Legal Aid NSW 3 1
Professional Practices Branch
Outcome not recorded 72 25
To be determined 0 17
TOTAL 326 360

Notes:
1: Better filtering of online complaints resulted in reduced numbers of complaints about grant refusals as queries were directed to the appropriate appeals process.
2 and 3: A change in policy in relation to transferring prisoners’ calls to lawyers and responses to the Minister’s Office about funding issues resulted in an increase in complaints for 2014-2015.

The year ahead

Provide staff training to improve skills and knowledge about complaint handling to ensure a more consistent approach across the organisation.

Use feedback options to acknowledge service excellence.

Raise staff awareness of our obligations under the GIPA Act and continue to provide ongoing advice and support to our staff in relation to those obligations.

Launch Sharepoint and an e-diary for LARC committee members so they can upload the reading material onto their own device at their convenience.