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Annual Report 2015 - 2016

Chair's report

Craig Smith, Chair The new Board brings significant skills and experience to its important task, and is well equipped and enthusiastic about its job of guiding Legal Aid NSW into the future.

I am pleased to introduce the 2015–2016 Annual Report on behalf of the Board of Legal Aid NSW.

This year, Legal Aid NSW started a number of important strategic initiatives, which will drive the organisation’s direction for the next few years and are indicative of the vision of the Executive team.

The Board has been involved in approving and monitoring all important initiatives within the organisation, from approving the establishment of the new satellite office in Albury and focusing on delivering better services to people in regional and remote parts of NSW, to approving the Legal Aid NSW Plan, the Domestic Violence Strategy and endorsing a number of other important projects.

A matter of particular interest to the Board was monitoring the progress in implementing changes under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services, including jurisdictional planning with the Community Legal Centre sector.

This year saw a greater focus by Legal Aid NSW on the importance of targeting services to the needs of clients—many of whom experience a number of issues, including poor health, which affect the way in which they engage with legal services.

Attending a workshop on the client journey within Legal Aid NSW made this clear to me, and I am confident that the work arising from this project will significantly and positively shape the organisation’s future.

Providing legal help to the most vulnerable

During the year, the Board gave its approval to a number of policy changes which will help Legal Aid NSW to continue with its work of providing legal help to the most vulnerable members of society in line with its goals and objectives.

The Board approved technical revisions to the contributions policy, changes to some fees scales, and amendments to eligibility criteria for some legal matters.

For example, it agreed to a special disadvantage test for employment law matters and approved the continuation of the Local Court defended hearings policy, which was reviewed after its introduction in 2013. The Board also gave approval to new policies and fee scales for some care and protection matters.

The Board was pleased to give approval to the development of a new legal service type that is aimed at providing assistance to disadvantaged people in resolving a wide category of disputes at an early stage so as to avoid litigation. It is anticipated that this service will be of great assistance for people with complex legal needs and will be established in such a way as to enable Legal Aid NSW to monitor the service and measure the outcomes achieved.

Stretching to achieve diversity

Legal Aid NSW is further working to enhance its workforce, by ensuring its highly qualified and professional staff are diverse and not disadvantaged because of disability, cultural background or other factors.

The Board was pleased to endorse the Diversity Action Plan, which guides Legal Aid NSW’s internal and external policies and activities.

The Board is pleased that this year’s Reconciliation Action Plan has achieved ‘Stretch’ status—ambitious targets for the employment of Aboriginal staff and other initiatives will ensure that Legal Aid NSW can serve clients from an Indigenous background even better in the future.

Using limited funds effectively and efficiently

Providing legal services to the people of New South Wales, Legal Aid NSW has to work within the limited budgets set by the Commonwealth and State Governments and use these funds effectively and efficiently.

The Board is continuing to monitoring finances and performance against the benchmarks set in the National Partnership Agreement (NPA).

This year, Legal Aid NSW and Community Legal Centres NSW (CLCs) commenced jurisdictional planning—a process provided for under the NPA to plan for sustainable service delivery across the CLC sector in anticipation of Commonwealth funding decreases to occur in 2017–2018.

The Board is pleased with steps taken so far to find administrative efficiencies and continues to support initiatives to prepare for the funding decrease to minimise the impact on vulnerable clients across New South Wales.

The Board also took an active role in monitoring the introduction of Activity Based Costing into Legal Aid NSW. The roll-out of this tool to measure performance concluded on 30 June 2016. Legal Aid NSW is now well positioned to embark on the next phase and report on inhouse service delivery.

Managing risk through a strong audit strategy

In 2015–2016, six internal audits were conducted as approved by the Audit and Risk Committee’s audit plan.

The Audit and Risk Committee added two new audits regarding the implementation of the contributions policy and Activity Based Costing.

The committee noted that the risks were also being appropriately managed.

Further, the committee reviewed the New South Wales Treasury Internal Audit and Risk Management Policy and will be implementing relevant issues resulting from the review over a two year period.

Looking ahead

In June 2016 I was delighted to be reappointed by the New South Wales Attorney General for a further three years as Chair of the Board. At the same time, two Board members were reappointed and six new, well qualified members were appointed to the Board until 2019.

The new Board brings significant skills and experience to its important task, and is well equipped and enthusiastic about its job of guiding Legal Aid NSW into the future.

The new Legal Aid NSW Plan, which guides the organisation’s future, promises that 2016–2017 will be another eventful year, which will include implementing the Client Service Strategy to improve the quality of client engagement and legal service delivery, the Domestic Violence Strategy and the new strategic framework for community legal education.

Legal Aid NSW continues to play an important role in the legal sector in New South Wales and its ability to help vulnerable clients is strengthened by the close ties to and cooperation with its partners in the legal and non-legal sector.

I wish to thank the Executive team and all Legal Aid staff for their hard work in 2015–2016, which was a particularly successful and busy year. The Board applauds their commitment and dedication to providing legal services to the people of New South Wales.

I also acknowledge the work of the private profession and the commitment of the Public Defenders in providing legal aid services on behalf of Legal Aid NSW.

Craig Smith
Chair, Legal Aid NSW