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Annual Report 2015 - 2016

Private lawyers

Legal Aid NSW works in partnership with private lawyers, who receive funding from us to represent legally aided clients in assigned matters.

Private lawyers are appointed to Legal Aid NSW panels under sections 49 to 52B of the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979.

In 2015–2016, private lawyers provided 41.2% of Legal Aid NSW case and duty services. More details appear in Appendix 6.

The Grants Division of Legal Aid NSW (Grants) receives, determines and manages legal aid applications from private lawyers and the Legal Aid NSW inhouse practice. Applications are submitted and managed electronically. Grants has regular telephone contact with lawyers and clients.

Fact file
Total staff in Grants Division: 76
Total applications for legal aid processed: 46,253
- in criminal law: 26,359
- in family law: 17,953
- in civil law: 1,941
Number of lawyers appointed to 12 Legal Aid NSW panels*: 1,892
Percentage of legally aided case and duty services provided by private lawyers: 41.2

*This includes lawyers appointed to more than one panel.

Number of private lawyers on Legal Aid NSW panels 2015–2016*
General Criminal Law 1,203
General Family Law 790
Care and Protection 261
Serious Criminal Law 169
Mental Health Advocacy 139
Children’s Criminal Law 131
General Civil Law 126
Independent Children’s Lawyer 126
Specialist Barrister Panel (Criminal Appellate Matters) 90
Specialist Barrister Panel (Complex Criminal Law) 75
Domestic Violence 52
Veterans’ Law 4

* This includes lawyers appointed to more than one panel.

All of the numbers include current active panel members whose appointment start dates are before 30 June 2016.

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

We welcomed more lawyers to our specialist panels

Panels operate in all areas of law, including general panels in criminal, family and civil law. There are specialist panels for care and protection, independent children’s lawyers, serious criminal law, children’s criminal law, mental health advocacy, veterans’ law and domestic violence matters and for barristers briefed in complex criminal matters and criminal appellate matters.

Legal Aid NSW panels host 1,892 individual private lawyers who are current members of one or more panels.

Panel lawyers assist Legal Aid NSW to deliver legal services to eligible clients appearing at courts throughout the state.

In 2015–2016, there were 423 appointments of new lawyers to our panels.

In addition, we reappointed 369 current panel members whose five-year appointments to various panels expired throughout the year. This means that panel lawyers will continue to be available to represent legally aided clients.

Lawyers are invited to take part in a new service delivery strategy

Legal Aid NSW is increasing legal advice and representation services for the residents in and around Moree and Broken Hill to better support the local community.

Moree and Broken Hill are in a region of the state which has a high level of unmet legal need, and the new services will help address this need and give local residents somewhere to turn for help resolving their legal problem.

The new services include a remote preferred legal provider scheme to give local people better access to legal representation in care and protection proceedings.

Under this pilot scheme, Legal Aid NSW selects a group of lawyers as ‘preferred providers’ to represent children, parents and others, like kinship carers, on behalf of Legal Aid NSW in child protection matters.

Lawyers have been invited to apply and the pilot will take place in 2016–2017 in Moree and Broken Hill.

OBJECTIVE Excellence in legal services

Reviews highlight areas for improvement

After reviewing the Children’s Criminal Law Panel, we reopened it to new applicants and current members seeking reappointment for 2015–2016. This panel was previously limited to particular Children’s Courts but is now state-wide. The practice standards for this panel were revised to support better compliance by panel lawyers.

We reviewed the Domestic Violence Practitioner Scheme Panel and developed a proposal for how this panel will operate in future. We pay private lawyers to assist women and children experiencing domestic violence in court proceedings. The panel is due to be reopened in the second half of 2016.

Back up scheme expanded to more courts

Under the Criminal Law Back Up Duty Scheme, private lawyers provide a range of duty back up at Local Courts. This year, the scheme was expanded to cover Kempsey, Nowra, Port Macquarie, Taree and Wauchope, in addition to the 49 courts already covered.

A strong focus on audits improved our performance

Legal Aid NSW conducts regular audits to maintain professional standards and ensure private lawyers comply with our policies and guidelines. Audits also provide a way of ensuring we are making efficient use of public money.

We increased the number of panel lawyer audits by 240% from the previous year. In 2015–2016, we audited 503 panel lawyers and 2,046 files/claims and requested refunds of $84,076.

We improved the way we manage and record audits using the new audit module in our grants management system. A new analysis tool helped to identify audit targets.

Legal Aid NSW increased the number of panel lawyer audits by 240% from the previous year.

Maintaining professional standards and using public money efficiently

Year Number of lawyers audited Number of files/spot check audits Refunds requested
2013–2014 225 1,514 $152,213
2014–2015 116 602 $11,713
2015–2016 503 2,046 $84,076
2016–2017 target: 800 lawyers and 4,000 files

Spot check audits and good communication resulted in better compliance with practice standards

Spot check audits were a priority. This year, we focused on claims for court time, attendance at family dispute resolution, commercial agent fees, conduct money, travel and interpreter fees. In total 1,990 claims were audited.

An increased audit presence and improved communication through our monthly online newsletter, Legal Aid News, resulted in a substantial improvement in overall compliance by panel lawyers.

This year we did spot check audits on claims for fees for court attendance and on claims for the disbursements of commercial agents and conduct money. We had previously audited these types of claims in 2013–2014. In relation to both the fees and the disbursements, the average amount of refund requested per audited claim reduced. For example, the average refund requested for court time claims reduced from $65 to $17 over the two years since the last audit.

File review audits result in requests for refunds

In addition to spot check audits, we conducted file audits. From the General Criminal Law Panel, General Family Law Panel, Care and Protection Panel and Independent children’s Lawyer Panel, 56 files were audited for nine panel lawyers, resulting in refund requests of $12,839.

Monitoring breaches of agreements

Legal Aid NSW investigates apparent breaches by panel lawyers of panel service agreements and refers matters to the Monitoring committee. The Committee, which comprises nominees from the Law Society of NSW, the NSW Bar Association and Legal Aid NSW, makes recommendations to Legal Aid NSW about lawyers who have breached panel service agreements.

During 2015–2016, we investigated 55 serious complaints about panel lawyers and referred one lawyer to the Monitoring Committee who was subsequently found to have breached the service agreement and was suspended from a panel. More than 45% of serious complaints related to the General Criminal Law Panel– the largest of the panels.

OBJECTIVE Strong partnerships

Seminars and technology provide practical support to private lawyers

We held free seminars for private lawyers on Legal Aid NSW policies and procedures and the use of the Grants Online system in Broken Hill, Batemans Bay, Bega, Nowra and Central Sydney. The Central Sydney session was webcast to enable panel lawyers from around the state to participate. Grants Division staff also presented a session at the annual criminal law training day held by Lismore Legal Aid office.

We updated Grants Online to make it easier for lawyers to accept offers of work via Grants Online on mobile devices such as smartphones.

Icon for The year aheadThe year ahead

  • Implement recommendations of the reviews of the Domestic Violence Panel and Specialist Barrister Panel (Complex Criminal Law).
  • Reopen each of the above panels for applications once reviews are completed.
  • Develop options for future directions of criminal law panels, taking into account key changes in the criminal justice area.
  • Review the Panel Lawyer Audit Strategy.
  • Increase the number of panel lawyer audits.
  • Commence the ‘preferred provider’ pilots in Broken Hill and Moree.