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Annual Report 2015 - 2016

Contributing to law reform

Legal Aid NSW is in a unique position to contribute to law reform at state and national levels due to our experience and expertise in representing socially and economically disadvantaged people who have come in contact with the justice system.

In 2015–2016, Legal Aid NSW made one family law, 10 criminal law, 18 civil law and three general law reform submissions. Further details appear in Appendix 7.

Legal Aid NSW is a key stakeholder in reforming laws that affect our clients.

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

Criminal law—a voice in statutory reviews and policy reform

Legal Aid NSW participated in a number of interagency committees and forums addressing bail, prisoners’ issues and domestic violence. The criminal law practice has had representatives on the Bail Act Monitoring Group at the Department of Justice over the last financial year. We have participated in the Domestic Violence Evidence in Chief (DVEC) Reforms Implementation and Monitoring Group when the use of DVEC recordings in defended hearings started on 1 June 2015. Reducing domestic violence is one of the NSW Premier’s 12 key priorities and we have contributed to amended draft domestic and personal violence legislation.

We contributed to statutory reviews of pre-trial disclosure in District Court trials and to wider efforts to improve efficiencies in the District Court to reduce the backlog of trials, including participating in the proposed establishment of an early plea of guilty scheme.

We engaged with the NSW Department of Justice on proposed sentencing reforms and contributed to the review of high risk violent offender provisions. A draft Bill was assented to on 7 June 2016.

In 2015–2016, we made submissions to NSW Parliamentary inquiries and the NSW Sentencing Council.

In October 2015, we made a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Security Classification and Management of Inmates Sentenced to Life Imprisonment, and we gave evidence to the inquiry in November 2015. The inquiry’s recommendations supported the need to address the care needs of elderly prisoners serving life sentences, which we advocated for in our submission and in evidence to the inquiry.

Criminal lawyers played an active role on the Law Society of NSW Juvenile Justice Committee and Criminal Law Committee, considering and reviewing laws and policies affecting people in the criminal justice system.

In late 2013, Legal Aid NSW established the Criminal Law Policy Consultation Group, comprised of a broad cross-section of Legal Aid NSW lawyers. Now in its third year, this group plays a key role in capturing ‘frontline’ experience of Legal Aid NSW lawyers and informing contributions to law reform processes. The Group met quarterly and commented on draft legislation.

Family law—a wide portfolio includes children’s issues and domestic violence

Legal Aid NSW made a submission to the Family Law Council on the subject of ‘Families with complex needs and the intersection of the family law and child protection systems’ in October 2015. This was the second part of a wider consultation on the intersection of family law and child protection systems upon which an earlier submission had been made in April 2015.

We contributed to a number of law reform submissions, including submissions which cut across the criminal, family and civil practice areas. We also participate in a number of interagency law reform committees. One example of the cross-divisional contribution to law reform was a supplementary submission to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Reparations for the Stolen Generations (see below under Civil Law).

Legal Aid NSW lawyers were actively involved in a number of committees looking at domestic violence legal issues, and Legal Aid NSW has provided comments to the Department of Justice about the NSW Government’s Domestic Violence Justice Strategy 2013–2017 and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.

We were also actively involved in child support issues and represented on the Department of Human Services Child Support State Stakeholder Engagement Group.

We contributed to developing the Law Society of NSW principles for the representation of children. We are also a member of the Children’s Court Advisory Committee and Children’s Court of NSW Stakeholder Working Group.

We are monitoring the Working with Children Check legislation.

Civil law—a state-wide protocol to divert young people from the criminal justice system

Legal Aid NSW made 18 submissions in 2015–2016 in what has been an extremely busy civil law reform year. These include submissions relating to consumer law, residential tenancy law, mental health law, elder abuse, workplace relations, willingness to work, and life insurance. We also contributed to a number of law reform initiatives and working groups.

We made submissions to the Australian Human Rights Commission, NSW Law Reform Commission, Consumer Affairs Australia and New Zealand, NSW and Senate Parliamentary Inquiries, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, NSW Fair Trading, NSW Treasury, NSW Financial Services Council, NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, and the Australian Government Productivity Commission.

We made a submission to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Reparations for the NSW Stolen Generations. Staff appeared as witnesses before the Inquiry in February 2016. After taking questions on notice two further submissions were given to the Inquiry and on 23 June 2016 the final report of the Inquiry was tabled. Entitled ‘Unfinished Business’ the report contains 35 recommendations, and quotes extensively from the Legal Aid NSW submission.

Legal Aid NSW made a submission to a review of Australian Consumer Law in May 2016. In October 2015, we made a submission to the Treasury about a review of small amount credit contract laws. Our lawyers attended the Treasury in February 2016 to discuss the issues raised in the interim report.

We were also involved in the ‘Hand-Up Project Advisory Group’ which is a pilot project of Bridge Housing for managing rent arrears. Legal Aid NSW participated in the National Legal Assistance Forum Fines and Traffic Working Group. We are also represented on the Work and Development Order Scheme Governance Group, which includes representatives from the Department of Justice, State Debt Recovery and the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd.

Icon for The year aheadThe year ahead

  • Contribute to law reform on issues that affect socially and economically disadvantaged people’s involvement in the justice system, including any law reform initiatives in response to domestic violence.
  • Capture the frontline experience of our staff to inform our contributions to law reform.