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Annual Report 2015 - 2016

Efficiency measures

We found better ways to use our resources and achieve greater efficiencies, and piloted a new way to measure and manage performance.

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

Clients will be able to apply for aid online

We developed an online form for applying for a grant of legal aid, which will improve access to clients who cannot easily attend a legal aid office or see a panel lawyer. The new online application form will be able to be used on mobile devices, tablets and desktop PCs. Following development by the software vendor and testing, the online form will be implemented in the second half of 2016.

Capturing data on early resolution assistance

The Board approved introducing a new service type, the first in over 30 years. With the increasing emphasis on resolving disputes at an early stage through dispute resolution processes, the new service fills the gap in our current service types between advice and minor assistance, and representation in litigation proceedings.

Improve access to legal services in correctional facilities through the use of technology

We worked with the Department of Justice Audio-Visual Link (AVL) Project Team to improve prisoners’ access to legal services. Six AVL suites across various Legal Aid NSW offices were upgraded to ensure more effective communication during conferences. The upgrades improve picture and sound quality and make it easier to show documents and electronic evidence from a brief to prisoners during the AVL. It is anticipated that all remaining AVL suites at Legal Aid NSW offices will be upgraded by the end of the next financial year.

Legal aid still available for defending Local Court criminal charges

We reviewed the Local Court defended hearing policy. This policy was introduced in November 2013 and has limited the circumstances in which legal aid is available to defend criminal charges in the Local Court. Legal aid is only available if there is a real possibility of imprisonment being imposed or there are exceptional circumstances. As a result of the review no changes have been made and legal aid continues to be available for these matters.

Risk assessment and safety planning for domestic violence

To improve our services to victims of domestic violence, the Domestic Violence Unit developed and circulated a number of tools to assist staff to screen for domestic and family violence, identify risk issues and make plans around client safety. Staff across the organisation were provided with new resources to help provide more integrated services and safety planning that helps protect clients in the event of escalating violence.

OBJECTIVE Excellence in legal services

Trauma-informed practice training supports staff to provide holistic services

Members of the Legal Aid NSW Family Violence Specialist Network completed training in trauma-informed practice. The goal of the network is to ensure that people affected by domestic and family violence receive high quality, client-centred and holistic services. In 2015–2016, the network attended four training days to exchange information on advances in the law, best practice issues and access to services relevant to domestic and family violence.

Lawyers and advocates now record the time they spend on delivering legal services

In response to a recommendation from the NSW Auditor General that Legal Aid NSW introduce a costing system for legal services delivered by its inhouse legal practice, Legal Aid NSW has introduced an Activity Based Costing system to assist in measuring performance.

Following a review of costing systems used in other Legal Aid Commissions and comparable public sector agencies, we conducted a pilot of an activity based time recording and reporting system in late 2014 – early 2015. An independent evaluation of the pilot recommended that activity based time recording be rolled out across the inhouse practice.

This rollout started on 1 July 2015 and ended on 30 June 2016. An internal audit of the rollout concluded that Legal Aid NSW is now well positioned to embark on the next phase of activity based costing. Lawyers and advocates in the inhouse practice now record the time they spend on delivering legal services.

We will be in a much stronger position to reliably and more comprehensively cost our inhouse service delivery by the second half of 2017.

Costs recovered in criminal law matters

The Grants Division identified 98 matters where lawyers had succeeded with costs applications in legally-aided criminal law proceedings. At 30 June 2016, claims valued at $1,184,990 had been submitted and $292,844 had been received.

Specialists in family law undertake complex litigation

The family law practice established a new unit for complex litigation and appeals work. Staff in the unit issued information on a range of legal topics for staff and panel lawyers. They provided advice and assistance to the inhouse practice on over 120 occasions and oversaw appeals work in the Family Court, District Court and Supreme Court in complex and groundbreaking litigation. See cases following.

Case studies iconCase studies

Jurisdictional argument

The matter involved parties who were separated and living in the United Arab Emirates with their two young children.

The parents travelled separately to Australia to visit family, with the father returning to the UAE separately. The mother kept the children in Australia. The father sought for the children to be returned to the UAE.

The mother gave evidence that since separation she had been unable to obtain secure accommodation in the UAE (at times sleeping in her car), was unable to legally work in the UAE, and was a victim of family violence at the hands of the father.

The Court dismissed the father’s application for summary return and made orders for the children to live with the mother in Australia.

Medical treatment for 15-year-old

We represented a client whose parents made an application to the Family Court, for a declaration that he is competent to consent to a male chest reconstruction surgery, for the purpose of treatment of his gender dysphoria. Family and Community Services intervened in the case, and submitted that because the proposed treatment did not follow the usual course it required the Court to determine whether the treatment was in the child’s best interest.

Acting on the child’s behalf, we disagreed arguing that the World Standards for Transgender Health provided for some flexibility in treatment. All of the child’s treating doctors were in agreement.

The Court found that there was no controversy in the matter, and declared that the child was competent to consent to the surgery.

Ensuring that clients who can pay do pay

Policy changes ensure we apply our contributions policy consistently and that clients who can pay their contribution do pay. The policy changes commenced in June 2015.

A working group implemented and monitored the changes throughout 2015–2016. New payment methods such as paying at the post office were taken up well by our clients.

We made a small change to our section 33 payment policy, exempting prisoners. The policy will no longer apply to indictable appeals as most of these clients are in prison and do not have access to funds to pay the contribution.

Collecting data on disability and family violence

We changed our data collection systems including Grants Online so we can collect data on whether:

  • clients are experiencing or at risk of domestic or family violence
  • clients have disability or are taking part in the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and the supports they need to use our services.

These changes will assist with our reporting on client demographics under the National Partnership Agreement.

Collecting better information for grants of legal aid in committals

For many years we operated on the basis that a grant of legal aid for criminal indictable matters was “seamless” - that the grant for committal proceedings covered the trial or sentence proceedings in the District Court or Supreme Court.

For committal grants approved from January 2016 onwards, lawyers were required to submit a new application for legal aid to cover the superior court proceedings. This change allows us to collect better information on the outcome of committal matters in the Local Court.

Major changes in Supreme Court bail applications

Supreme Court Common Law Division Practice Note 11 commenced on 7 March 2016. This Practice Note changed the way the NSW Supreme Court bails practice area is managed, bringing in a Registrar’s weekly call-over.

Legal Aid NSW responded to this change by creating a temporary role within our Supreme Court bails practice to manage files and workload, and appear at the weekly call-over. Staff and private lawyers assisting Legal Aid NSW have been trained on the new procedures and requirements of the Practice Note. Legal Aid NSW will provide feedback to the Court’s review of the new procedures.

Communities of practice provide peer support

The civil law practice coordinates more than 15 communities of practice in key areas such as housing, social security and domestic violence. The communities of practice provide support and training for inhouse lawyers and encourage collaboration with external partners.

A health justice community of practice with members from across legal services and the health services sector, supported us to partner with community and health organisations who are best placed to identify legal problems early in community settings.

Changes driven by regular review

The civil law practice coordinates more than 15 communities of practice in key areas such as housing, social security and domestic violence. The communities of practice provide support and training for inhouse lawyers and encourage collaboration with external partners.

The Regional Outreach Clinic Steering Committee reviewed all ROCP locations and outreach and realigned locations so that they better complement inhouse outreach services and fill service delivery gaps.

OBJECTIVE Supporting our people

Data and information that demonstrates value and quality

Legal Aid NSW developed a strategy to capture data and information that demonstrates the value and quality of Legal Aid NSW services. The strategy identified a number of priorities including:

  • improving data compliance and identifying new data that demonstrates value
  • developing and testing a new evaluation model, which includes cost/benefit analysis and client and stakeholder feedback
  • identifying the partnerships we need to progress the strategy.

We developed an Outcomes Framework that measures the impact (value) of Legal Aid NSW services on our clients and the community.

In the coming year Legal Aid NSW will implement the Outcomes Framework and the Monitoring and Evaluation Framework.

New data governance framework for better performance

We implemented a new data governance framework. The framework recognises data as a vital asset of Legal Aid NSW. Under the framework, we have established the Data Governance Council, comprising senior managers from each of our divisions, who have been appointed as information owners for our key data entities. As a first step, the Council developed a Charter for its operations. The information owners are responsible for ensuring the quality and correct usage of our data and the council is developing standards and procedures to enable this to happen.

Treasury approval for new case management system

Legal Aid NSW identified that we needed a new case management system to better improve our ability to meet the needs of our clients across legal practice areas. We consulted with staff to develop a business case for a new system which was submitted to NSW Treasury. This funding has been approved and we will start work on a new case management solution in 2016–2017.

Regional offices increased their capacity to provide more services

Legal Aid NSW opened a new office in the border town of Albury in June 2016, providing legal services to residents from both sides of the border; The satellite Albury office is a first for Legal Aid NSW: the office is linked to the Legal Aid NSW office in Wagga Wagga, under the joint new name Legal Aid NSW Riverina Murray office.

The Albury office allows us to better service the Albury community and with permanent staff in Albury, the Wagga Wagga office can redirect its resources to provide services to a wider catchment in the Riverina. Other advantages include being able to interview clients, in particular children, in a neutral setting away from the Albury courthouse.

Legal Aid NSW relocated its criminal law practice close to the new court precinct in the heart of Newcastle, in time for the court opening in March 2016. Thirteen lawyers and six administrative staff serve clients across almost all criminal jurisdictions. The office also services courts that cover the Lake Macquarie District, just south of Newcastle.

The Newcastle criminal law team in front of the courthouse right across the road from their new office

We identified the need for improved client service facilities at Sutherland, Wollongong, Dubbo and Lismore. These offices were partially refurbished to increase the number of interview rooms, expand the conference rooms and meet the increased need for office accommodation for our staff. We met these challenges within the existing footprint of our offices without taking up additional space.

Our new satellite office allows us to better service the border town of Albury and its surrounding communities.

After 22 years in our Legal Aid room at Burwood court house, we were allocated a larger space. We worked with the Court Registrar to fit out a space where staff can see up to six clients simultaneously in a secure and accessible environment. This improved service has been a major win for our Burwood criminal law team and has improved client service delivery and safety.

We worked with Government Property NSW to secure additional space in Central Sydney for our special project staff in the civil law practice.

Parramatta Justice Precinct Office was partly upgraded to accommodate an expansion in the Children’s Legal Service Team. With a more practical layout, dedicated hotline room and repurposed spaces, this office can run more efficiently.

OBJECTIVE Strong partnerships

Regional plans are built on local needs

We developed a new framework for regional service delivery planning that is informed by evidence of need in a geographical area, resulting in a two-year plan. The plans respond to the legal and related needs of clients, rather than being solely legal-practice centred. They are driven by the local regional Legal Aid NSW office, and reflect Legal Aid NSW corporate priorities as they relate to a local area.

In October 2015, five new Solicitors-in-Charge attended training to develop their planning skills and to establish plans for their geographic catchment area. The offices represented in the pilot were Bankstown, Gosford, Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Wollongong.

Within six months, the Solicitors-in-Charge produced a general guide for regional service delivery planning, and specific plans for each of their five offices. The plans are informed by Cooperative Legal Service Delivery Program planning.

Icon for The year aheadThe year ahead

  • Refine the costing methodology to be applied to time recording.
  • Evaluate new data about the early resolution of matters.
  • Review eligibility policies for currency and consistency with existing practice requirements and the National Partnership Agreement.
  • Implement a range of qualitative and quantitative measures that will demonstrate the value of Legal Aid NSW services.
  • Determine the selection of a new case management solution to support staff to meet business needs and deliver improved client services.
  • Roll out the new framework for regional service delivery plans for Legal Aid NSW offices.
  • Respond to planned reforms to the way indictable maters are dealt with in the Local Court.
  • Contribute to reducing the District Court trial backlog.
  • Develop a skills-based training program in the civil law practice to achieve a higher and more consistent standard of legal practice amongst our lawyers.
  • Accommodate additional staff in Bankstown, Broken Hill, Campbelltown, Fairfield and Newcastle Family and Civil Law offices to better meet demand for our services.