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Annual Report 2014 - 2015

Our services - a snapshot

We provide a wide range of services to our clients.

The following two pages capture a snapshot of our client services for 2014-2015. Three-year comparison tables can be viewed in Appendix 6.

Details about our achievements in client service delivery are summarised in the Legal Aid NSW Plan and expanded upon in Section 1 of this report.

Information about the law and legal services

Provided 564,958 information services, a 13.7 per cent decrease on last year.

Our information services are free and can be accessed by the general community. Our staff can help with initial inquiries about a legal problem and legal processes, and provide printed information to help clients understand their situation and the availability of legal aid. Our staff help clients work out what to do next, and the best place to go if they need more help.

Information over the phone is available through LawAccess NSW, a free legal information, referral and limited advice service administered by the NSW Department of Justice, and partly funded by Legal Aid NSW.

The introduction of new protocols to streamline the volume of telephone calls from prisoners has contributed to the decrease in the volume of calls and consequently, to information services (see Streamlining access to legal services for prisoners).

Publications and community legal education

Distributed 707,409 publications, and provided 2,975 community legal education sessions, a decrease of 5.9 per cent on last year (page 33).

We provide free publications and legal education kits to help people in New South Wales understand their legal rights and responsibilities.

Our resources are available on our website under Factsheets and Resources and can be ordered online at Publications/Order a publication. We conduct legal education sessions at venues across the State. These can be tailored to suit the needs of particular groups.

Legal advice and minor assistance

Provided 150,396 advice and minor assistance services, an increase of 6.9 per cent on last year.

Legal advice and minor assistance is available at no cost and is not means tested.

These services are available to every New South Wales resident in 210 outreach locations around the state, as well as at our 22 offices. During a short consultation, our lawyers will help clients to identify their problem, inform them of their legal rights and obligations and help them to understand what course of action can be taken.

Lawyers may also draft letters or other documents for clients and make telephone calls on their behalf to help resolve their problem. We refer to this as minor assistance.

Often this is all that is required to help people resolve their legal issues, but clients who are due to appear in court may apply for a grant of aid for legal representation.

Duty lawyer services

Provided a total of 174,562 duty services (110,974 of these were provided inhouse and 63,588 were provided by private lawyers).

Legal Aid NSW provides lawyers in various courts and tribunals throughout New South Wales. We refer to these as duty lawyers.

Duty lawyers provide advice and/or representation to disadvantaged people appearing before the Local and Children's Courts on criminal charges. Some matters are able to be finalised on the first appearance. Otherwise the duty lawyer can seek an adjournment for further advice, to arrange a grant of aid or to allow time for further preparation.

A duty lawyer is provided to all persons in custody for a first appearance bail application.

The duty lawyer service is free of charge.

Duty lawyer services are available for children and adults involved in care and protection matters at every specialist Children's Court in New South Wales, and at many regional courts when they sit as Children's Courts.

The duty lawyer acts for either the children or the parents (or other eligible adults) on the first day that the case is heard by the Magistrate and, where possible, applies for a grant of legal aid to continue to act as the lawyer for that client in the ongoing matter.

Legal Aid NSW also provides duty lawyer services for people with a mental illness under the Mental Health Act 2007. Our Mental Health Advocacy Service and regional civil lawyers provide duty services at the Mental Health Review Tribunal and at hospitals.

Duty lawyer services are available at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal in Liverpool and Sydney, where our lawyers assist people to understand their claims and how the Tribunal can help them. We offer telephone advice to people in rural and regional areas who are unable to attend either the Tribunal or one of our offices.

Legal Aid NSW also provides duty lawyer services for disadvantaged people involved in proceedings under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) and child support legislation. These services are provided across the state in the Family and Federal Circuit Courts.

Legal representation

Provided representation in 35,337 matters (11,231 provided inhouse and 24,106 assigned to private lawyers).

Legal Aid NSW provides legal representation in criminal law, family law and civil law matters to people who meet eligibility tests. Our policies appear in the For lawyers section of our website www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au

Clients can apply for a grant of legal aid through a Legal Aid office or a private lawyer or by completing a paper application form. We operate a means test for grants of legal representation so that these services are targeted towards those who need them most. Most people granted legal aid are required to pay a contribution towards the costs of their legal representation.

For more information visit Get legal help > Apply for legal aid on our website.

Hotline for young people

Received 15,449 calls, providing 5,707 legal advice services to young people, 3,537 minor assistance services and legal information to 4,127 callers.

Our telephone hotline for young people provides legal advice, minor assistance and information to young people under 18, and operates from 9am to midnight weekdays, with a 24-hour service from Friday 9am to Sunday midnight and also on public holidays. Many of these calls facilitate the operation of the Young Offenders Act 1997 where, after legal advice, young people make admissions to police and are then given cautions or referred to youth justice conferences by police, rather than being charged with offences and brought before a court.

Family dispute resolution

Held 2,676 conferences, reaching full or partial settlement in 79.9 per cent (full table in Appendix 6).

We provide family dispute resolution (FDR) conferences in family law matters to facilitate the resolution of disputes at an early stage. Parties are given the opportunity to negotiate a settlement without the need to go to court. If a settlement is reached, consent orders may be drafted and filed in the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court.

FDR is also available for matters in late litigation. Before legal aid is granted for parties to be represented at a final hearing, if appropriate, the Court or Legal Aid NSW may refer parties to FDR.

At least one of the parties must have a grant of legal aid before a conference is organised.

Specialist services

We established a new civil law service to assist Aboriginal people with housing, Centrelink and debt issues. The service travelled to Aboriginal communities to reach Aboriginal people who do not seek help from the formal justice system.

Our specialist services are staffed by experts in their field.

These include:

  • Adult Drug Court Service
  • Child Support Service
  • Children's Civil Law Service
  • Children's Legal Service (criminal matters)
  • Client Assessment and Referral Unit
  • Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities
  • Commonwealth Crime Unit
  • Coronial Inquest Unit
  • Early Intervention Unit (family law)
  • Employment Law Service
  • Homeless Legal Outreach Program
  • Mental Health Advocacy Service
  • Older Persons' Legal and Education Service
  • Prisoners Legal Service
  • Sexual Assault Communications Privilege Service
  • Veterans' Advocacy Service
  • Work and Development Order Service

There is more information about these services on our website at www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au > What we do.