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Annual Report 2014 - 2015

Chair's report

Craig Smith, Chair, Legal Aid NSW On behalf of the Board I am pleased to introduce the 2014-2015 Annual Report.

This is my second full year as Chair of the Board of Legal Aid NSW, and I continue to be impressed by the leadership shown by Legal Aid NSW in innovative and responsive services to meet the legal needs of socially and economically disadvantaged people in New South Wales.

As this report demonstrates, 2014- 2015 has been a rewarding and interesting year which saw Legal Aid NSW continuing to deliver on the goals and objectives in the Legal Aid NSW Plan.

Working with vulnerable people

Legal Aid NSW is increasingly working with other agencies to meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of our community.

The Board was briefed on a number of important initiatives in this area, including a service for young people with complex needs and a service for Aboriginal women leaving custody. Legal Aid NSW is playing an important role in rolling out It Stops Here: Safer Pathway, a ground breaking initiative where agencies work together to improve the safety of women and children experiencing domestic violence.

The Board was pleased to approve policy changes to support the work of Legal Aid NSW in providing care and protection services, in partnership with Community Legal Centres and Aboriginal Legal Services.

The Board also approved amendments to the means test, to raise the income threshold and allowable assets, making legal aid more accessible.

Aboriginal people are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. The Board was pleased to approve a new Reconciliation Action Plan for 2015-2018. This plan builds on the excellent work that Legal Aid NSW is already doing to increase services to Aboriginal communities through initiatives such as Aboriginal Field Officers, a civil law service for Aboriginal people, and increasing the number of Aboriginal staff.

Effective and efficient delivery of services

Ensuring that we deliver our services effectively, efficiently and in an economical manner is a high priority for the Board.

Legal Aid NSW has carried out a number of reviews of our services, including the Legal Aid NSW partnership with Settlement Services International and the provision of legal services in South West, Far West, North West and Northern New South Wales. These reviews have provided us with valuable information to inform how we deliver our services.

The Board has monitored the pilot of activity based costing at Legal Aid NSW. Activity based costing is an important tool for Legal Aid NSW to improve service planning and to demonstrate value for money. As a result of this evaluation, activity based costing will be implemented across Legal Aid NSW in 2015-2016.

Responding to funding pressures

"This year saw a further round of efficiency and other savings targets from the New South Wales government which were successfully met."

Following a reduction in Commonwealth funding for expensive Commonwealth criminal law cases, the Board made the difficult decision to restrict legal aid funding for expensive Commonwealth indictable matters and for some Commonwealth civil law and family law matters. I am pleased to advise that this decision was reversed following the provision of additional funding by the Commonwealth in February 2015. The Board continues to closely monitor expenses in this area.

This year saw a further round of efficiency and other savings targets from the New South Wales Government which were successfully met.

Initial and final contributions form an increasingly important source of revenue for Legal Aid NSW. This reduces the pressure to cut our services or reduce eligibility for legal aid for those who need it most. The Board approved changes to the contributions policy to improve the collection of contributions from our clients. The Board will review this policy in 12 months.

A three-year audit strategy

An important function of the Board is to oversee audit and risk for Legal Aid NSW.

As part of the audit and risk strategy, the Board approved a three-year internal audit plan in 2013-2014. A number of internal audits were completed this financial year including Accounts Payable and Payments, Delegations of Authority and Internal Security Annual Audit. The Board will oversee the implementation of recommendations arising from these audits.

Legal Aid NSW processes for dealing with complaints continue to improve. Data collection has been improved and there is now regular reporting to the executive and to the Board on complaints, highlighting trends and strategic issues.

The year ahead

A new Legal Aid NSW Plan will guide our work in 2015-2016.

Improving coordination of our services to ensure an integrated response to clients is the cornerstone of the plan. It includes the development of a client service strategy, providing a coordinated response to people experiencing domestic violence, and improving services to rural and remote communities.

Implementing the new National Partnership Agreement with the Commonwealth will be an important focus for next year. We will work closely with our justice sector partners to implement jurisdictional planning to meet identified legal needs in the community.

In April this year I attended an executive strategic planning retreat which informed the development of the 2015-2016 Legal Aid NSW Plan. I was impressed with the commitment and knowledge of the Executive team, and their willingness to work together to develop client-centred solutions. I was particularly pleased to note the attention given to addressing the needs of clients experiencing domestic violence.

Legal Aid NSW has a strong Board, which I am proud to lead as Chair. Together, the members of the Board bring an invaluable mix of skills and experience to the organisation.

I thank the Legal Aid NSW Executive team and staff for their dedication and commitment to delivering legal services to the people of New South Wales. I also acknowledge the work of the private profession and the commitment of the Public Defenders in the provision of legal aid services.

Craig Smith
Chair, Legal Aid NSW