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Annual Report 2015 - 2016

Highlights this year: how we made a difference to clients and communities

Although we continued to provide services to a broad range of clients, we gave emphasis to strategies that target vulnerable clients with complex needs. The first step was to introduce practical ways of addressing identified justice gaps.

We concentrated our efforts on new and better ways of providing clients with the help they need—where they need it and when they need it. Our aim was to contribute to safer and better informed communities. We did this through:

  • developing a Client Service Strategy that puts clients at the centre of everything we do
  • providing more legal services for the residents of regional and remote areas
  • adopting new and better ways of helping clients break the cycle of domestic violence.

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

Putting ourselves in our clients’ shoes we delivered a strategy for the next five years

One of the key actions in the Legal Aid NSW Plan 2015–2016 was to develop a Client Service Strategy to ensure high quality, targeted and consistent services to clients. Our intention is to transform how we deliver services by putting our clients at the front and centre of everything we do.

We engaged ThinkPlace Consultants to help develop the strategy, using a co-design model. We consulted widely with our clients, staff and stakeholders to identify what we do well and what we need to improve.

The Client Service Strategy 2016–2020 sets out a common vision for how we want to transform our services over the next five years. There are six strategic focus areas.

  • Redesign client entry into Legal Aid NSW services
    We will redesign client entry into Legal Aid NSW services to ensure that our clients experience high quality and consistent services across all channels, including face-to-face, phone and the web. This includes reviewing the way clients make appointments, the physical environment of our offices, and our website.
  • Tailor, coordinate and integrate services based on client needs
    We will design a triage approach for assessing a client’s needs and provide the most appropriate service to meet those needs. We will identify all the legal needs of a client and make referrals as appropriate.
  • Improve our capacity to provide efficient and effective client centred services
    Staff will be trained and resourced to provide high quality client service. Our business processes and systems will be reviewed to ensure they are client-centred.
  • Maximise stakeholder engagement
    Many of our clients with complex legal and non-legal needs have dealings with a number of government and non-government agencies. We will work strategically with partner agencies to provide joined-up services for vulnerable clients with complex needs.
  • Improve communication to and education of our clients
    We will review our communication products, including forms, letters, brochures and our website to ensure they are client-centred and effective.
  • Strengthen the way we manage service delivery
    We will monitor, evaluate and report on our services to our clients.

Smart technology provides clients with quick access

As part of our Client Service Strategy, we looked at how technology can help us improve our services to clients. This is aligned to a government-wide focus on digital transformation.

We undertook work on an online system that allows clients to apply for a grant of aid if they cannot access a lawyer. This might be due to disability or because they live in a remote location.

Client Communication Project—a project to rewrite our client letters in plain language

We started a project to rewrite our letters to clients about their grants of legal aid in plain language.

A reader-focused letter written in a way that can be easily understood is good client service. It can also benefit the organisation by reducing time spent explaining the content of letters to clients. Letters that are written clearly and simply may also reduce client complaints.

Staff across the organisation were consulted about which letters cause the most confusion for clients and difficulties for other staff. The letters will be user-tested with clients and our stakeholders.

Reshaping service delivery in regional and remote areas

During 2015–2016, Legal Aid NSW reviewed the way we provide legal services to disadvantaged people in a number of remote and rural locations to identify potential gaps. This was a recommendation of the Review of legal service gaps in remote New South Wales carried out last year.

The locations we reviewed were:

  • South West: Wentworth, Dareton, Balranald
  • Far West: Broken Hill, Wilcannia
  • North West: Bourke, Brewarrina, Walgett, Lightning Ridge
  • North: Moree, Boggabilla, Toomelah

Research and on the ground experience shows that:

  • clients in remote locations often experience very high levels of disadvantage and other demographic indicators of legal need, along with isolation from services
  • traditional models of servicing are not sustainable.

Our approach was to focus on remote clients and include:

  • a greater inhouse presence in some of these communities, such as placing a lawyer in Broken Hill on a full-time basis and establishing a new satellite office in Albury. We have also expanded our committals practice in remote and rural New South Wales.
  • more outreach advice clinics where lawyers go to meet clients in their own communities.
  • local partnerships, such as a new Cooperative Legal Service Delivery Program partnership in Moree.
  • new approaches to the ‘mixed model’, such as the pilot of remote preferred providers in Moree and Broken Hill.
  • a realignment of Regional Outreach Clinic Program locations across New South Wales.

Legal Aid NSW consults with local community and legal services about the best way to provide additional legal services in Broken Hill.Legal Aid NSW consults with local community and legal services about the best way to provide additional legal services in Broken Hill.

Targets exceeded for delivering services to Aboriginal communities

The Legal Aid NSW Stretch Reconciliation Action Plan 2015–2018 includes a number of targets in expanding services that were either met or exceeded.

We exceeded targets for expanding civil and family law services to regional and remote communities with:

  • four new locations for joint civil and family law services (Forster/Tuncurry, Moree, Bourke/ Brewarrina/Walgett, and Tabulum)
  • three more locations for family law services (Port Macquarie, Broken Hill and Evans Head)
  • four new locations providing civil law services (Dubbo, Nowra, Taree and Boggabilla/Toomelah).

More outreach advice clinics took us into communities

Legal Aid NSW continues to strengthen and expand the use of outreach legal advice services to access disadvantaged communities. Over the last five years, regular outreach locations increased by 62%, from 153 regular outreach locations in 2011–2012, to 248 locations across New South Wales in 2015–2016.

The majority of these—185—are in rural, regional and remote locations. Locations with regular outreach services for Aboriginal communities have increased from 20 in 2011–2012 to 45 in 2015–2016. This includes services provided by the Legal Aid NSW Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities to regional and remote Aboriginal communities.

Legal Aid NSW partners with community and government organisations to provide outreach services in locations that are accessible to our clients. These include homeless services, Aboriginal Medical Services, migrant resource centres, neighbourhood and community centres, Centrelink, courts and correctional facilities. Some outreach clinics are conducted remotely using web-based video conferencing facilities.

We attend 248 outreach locations

Every week our lawyers go out to meet clients where they are needed

Regular legal outreach services 248
Services for Aboriginal communities* 45
Regular outreach services in regional and remote areas 185
Based in Centrelink offices 5
Clients can access civil law advice** 169
Clients can access family law advice** 109
Clients can access criminal law advice*** 40

* Includes services provided by the Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities (CLSAC) at locations 6–8 times per year in each location
** Some locations offer advice in more than one area of law
*** Includes outreach to correctional centres as well as seven criminal law advice outreach services.

Safety for victims of domestic violence: a priority for the whole organisation

As part of the Legal Aid NSW Plan 2015–2016, we developed a new Domestic and Family Violence Strategy 2016–2018 across all areas of service delivery. Its purpose is to ensure that Legal Aid NSW delivers high quality, client-centred and integrated services to people affected by domestic and family violence.

Proposed actions include improving specialist services, more training and resources for staff and private lawyers; amending our conflict of interest and grants policies to increase access to services for victims of domestic and family violence; and improving our service delivery to defendants in domestic and family violence matters.

The CEO is the corporate sponsor of the strategy, and the Legal Aid NSW Domestic and Family Violence Committee is responsible for monitoring and reviewing its implementation.

A summary of the strategy can be found on our website under What we do > Domestic and family violence.

Legal and non-legal support for victims of violence at crisis point

In January 2016, Legal Aid NSW established a specialist Domestic Violence Unit, providing legal and non-legal support to victims of violence at crisis point, using a trauma-informed approach. This approach is based on understanding and responding to the impacts of trauma, creating opportunities for clients to rebuild a sense of control. We also launched the Commonwealth-funded South West Sydney Domestic Violence Unit to help women in South West Sydney, including women from culturally diverse communities.

The full team of the specialist Domestic Violence Unit attended the launch of the South West Sydney Domestic Violence Service with CEO Bill Grant and Director of Family Law, Kylie Beckhouse. The full team of the specialist Domestic Violence Unit attended the launch of the South West Sydney Domestic Violence Service with CEO Bill Grant and Director of Family Law, Kylie Beckhouse.

We are well placed to provide these services. Many of our clients, especially in family law matters, have experienced domestic violence. A file audit in early 2016 found that 76% of all Legal Aid NSW family law cases involve allegations of domestic violence. We also identified the cycle of domestic violence in our 2013 study of people who are frequent users of Legal Aid NSW services. The study found 72% of these regular clients had a history of abuse or neglect at home, including being victims of family violence.

In its first six months (January to June 2016), the Domestic Violence Unit provided 710 duty services, 532 advice services and 234 minor assistance services.

Legal services have been provided to clients about a wide range of legal problems, including apprehended domestic violence orders, family law (parenting, recovery applications, property, divorce, contraventions, child support, care and protection, forced marriage and Hague convention matters), civil law (victims support, immigration, housing, police complaints, credit/ debt and social security matters) and criminal law (matters where the defendant is the primary victim and has had an ADVO applied against them or domestic violence-related charges), as well as in relation to fraud and dishonesty offences (for example, in situations when a victim seeks to change or withdraw their evidence and there is a risk of a criminal charge).

Social work support has included risk assessment, safety planning, court support, as well as warm referrals and practical assistance for clients to access counselling, housing and Centrelink.

Case studies iconCase studies

How our trauma-informed service works

Mother keeps her baby

When Piu, a recent migrant from China, went to hospital to give birth, the hospital noticed severe injuries all over her body presumed to be caused by her violent partner. Piu’s baby was born with a disability and Community Services became involved with Piu and her baby. Our wrap-around trauma-informed service meant we could help Piu in a number of ways, including:

  • obtaining an apprehended domestic violence order at court to protect Piu
  • legal advice about care and protection issues, including the best way for Piu to work with Community Services to keep her baby in her care
  • social work follow up to help Piu follow the safety plan, apply for victim’s support for counselling in Mandarin, and obtain financial assistance
  • advocating with police to ensure the ADVO included Piu’s baby and following up on her ex-partner’s breaches of the ADVO
  • referring Piu to the Legal Aid NSW specialist immigration service for help with her visa.

Piu’s baby remains in her care.

Help with housing, court support and safety planning

Irma was in a violent relationship with Peter and tried to leave the relationship. When Peter found out she was trying to leave, he and his cousin assaulted Irma and locked her out of their home without any belongings. Their three young children were inside.

The police charged Peter with assault. Our services included:

  • applying for orders to protect Irma
  • applying for the return of Irma’s children
  • assisting her with parenting and property proceedings
  • a social worker applying for housing and victims support, including counselling as well as urgent financial assistance to arrange new furniture and whitegoods
  • undertaking a risk assessment and putting in place a safety plan for Irma and the children along with providing ongoing court support.

Female defendant but primary victim

Celia was the victim of violence from Harry over a 20-year relationship. They have a child together.

Police were called to an incident at their home. Harry claimed that Celia scratched his face. Police charged Celia with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and intimidation and applied for an apprehended domestic violence order against her. Celia had to leave the home and could not see her child.

Celia told the Domestic Violence Unit lawyer that she had actually been the victim of serious physical and sexual violence by Harry for years. Harry had also been extremely controlling of her and on the night in question, tried to strangle her and tried to take her phone to stop her from calling police. Celia feared for her life and defended herself.

The Domestic Violence Unit represented Celia in defence of the criminal charges and the ADVO. The medical evidence confirmed Celia’s injuries were consistent with strangulation; and the Triple 000 calls were played in court. The Court accepted Celia’s account of violence. The charges and the ADVO against Celia were successfully dismissed.

We went on to assist Celia with family law issues.

icon of finger pointingNote: These are not the clients’ real names.

More women supported by domestic violence services

The NSW Government’s Domestic Violence Justice Strategy 2013–2017 provides New South Wales justice agencies with a clear framework to improve the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence.

The strategy sets out standards of service for agencies working to ensure victims’ safety and access to support is improved, and perpetrators are held to account and change their behaviour.

Under the strategy, from 1 July 2015, the NSW Police Force refers all women victims of a domestic violence incident to one of the 28 Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services (WDVCASs) across New South Wales.

The strategy has provided early safety intervention and support for more women at court. The number of women receiving support from the 28 WDVCASs rose steeply—by 73% over the previous year.

It Stops Here: Standing Together to End Domestic and Family Violence in New South Wales is a whole-of-government reform package launched in 2014 by the Hon Pru Goward, Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. The reforms aim to improve the New South Wales response to domestic violence.

The reform package has five elements, including the centrepiece Safer Pathway service delivery model. Safer Pathway aims to ensure that all victims of domestic violence receive a timely, effective and consistent response, regardless of where they live. Safer Pathway is a comprehensive, system-wide structure, rather than an individual service, and is underpinned by new information-sharing provisions contained in Part 13A of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007.

Safer Pathway commenced in two launch sites, Orange and Waverley, in September 2014 and expanded to four additional sites, Broken Hill, Bankstown, Tweed Heads and Parramatta, in July 2015. From 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016, the six sites have received a total of 9,540 referrals. More information appears in the section on WDVCAP.

Icon for The year aheadThe year ahead

  • Recruit a Client Service Director to oversee the implementation of the Client Service Strategy.
  • Expand legal service delivery in remote New South Wales, in particular the Riverina and Murray regions.
  • Implement the Legal Aid NSW Domestic and Family Violence Strategy 2016–2018, including establishing new domestic violence advice clinics in Bankstown and Burwood.
  • Roll out Safer Pathway to more locations in New South Wales.