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Annual Report 2016 - 2017

Contributing to law reform

Our experience and expertise in representing socially and economically disadvantaged people who have come into contact with the justice system, puts us in a unique position to contribute to law reform at state and national levels.

In 2016–2017, Legal Aid NSW made 41 law reform submissions. Further details appear in Appendix 7.

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

Criminal law—a proactive voice in major reforms

We contributed to the development of the NSW Government’s appropriate early guilty plea reforms. We made submissions to the statutory reviews of section 25A and 25B of the Crimes Act 1900 (the “one punch offences”), the Crimes (High Risk Offenders) Act 2006, and the mandatory pre-trial defence disclosure provisions. We also scrutinised and provided feedback on draft Commonwealth and State criminal legislation and policy proposals on a range of topics.

In 2016–2017 we made submissions to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and gave evidence to the Inquiry in November 2016, including about our involvement in the Child Sexual Assault Pilot scheme. We also made submissions to the Legislative Assembly Inquiry into violence against emergency service personnel, and to the NSW Government’s consultation on serious vilification laws. We met with the Commissioner leading the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into Indigenous incarceration and identified Legal Aid NSW priorities for criminal justice reforms in this area.

We engaged with the NSW Department of Justice on a range of issues, including the new offence of sharing intimate images without consent.

Legal Aid NSW actively participates in a number of interagency committees concerning bail, prisoners’ issues and domestic violence. We were represented on the Bail Act Monitoring Group convened by the Department of Justice.

"Changing unfair aspects of the law or the way in which it operates is fundamental to our mission to make a difference."

Our Criminal Law Reform and Policy Consultation Group, made up of a broad cross-section of Legal Aid NSW lawyers, played a key role in capturing ‘frontline’ experiences of Legal Aid NSW lawyers and informing contributions to law reform processes. The Group meets quarterly, comments on current law reform proposals and draft legislation, and proactively identifies laws in need of reform.

Family law—arguing for laws that better protect vulnerable people

Legal Aid NSW contributed to a number of law reform submissions, including the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into elder abuse, the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department consultation on criminalising breaches of personal protection injunctions in the Family Court, the NSW Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into alternative dispute resolution (addressing family disputes), and the Australian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs inquiry into how the family law system can better protect people affected by family violence. We also scrutinised and provided feedback on draft Commonwealth and State criminal legislation and policy proposals on topics including family law, domestic violence, and evidence given by children.

We also participated in a number of interagency law reform committees, including the National Legal Aid Family Law Working Group and the New South Wales and Commonwealth Government Working Group to prevent forced marriage. Legal Aid NSW lawyers were actively involved in Family Court committees, including the Self Represented Litigants Committee and the Children’s Committee.

Civil law—addressing issues like elder abuse, homelessness and freedom of speech

Legal Aid NSW made extensive contributions to the Treasury review of the financial system external dispute resolution framework, and also contributed to reviews of the marketing of financial products, general insurance, life insurance, time-share schemes and funeral funds.

We made submissions to the NSW Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into the Guardianship Act 1987 and (as noted above) submissions to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into elder abuse. We also made a submission to the Department of Family and Community Services on a homelessness strategy for New South Wales and to the Statutory Review of the Coroners Act 2009.

Other civil law submissions addressed freedom of speech, the Federal Government’s proposed new citizenship test, and corporate evasion of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

Legal Aid NSW made a submission to the New South Wales Department of Justice’s consultation on civil justice reform, and participated in the Civil Justice Strategy Consultation Group. We also participated in the Work and Development Order Scheme Governance Group, and a range of ombudsman and tribunal user groups.

The year ahead

Legal Aid NSW will continue to contribute to law reform processes on issues that affect socially and economically disadvantaged people in the justice system. Some of the significant reform processes on the horizon for 2017–2018 include:

  • reforms to sentencing, parole and driver licence disqualification laws in New South Wales
  • the NSW Sentencing Council’s inquiry into the role of victims in the sentencing process
  • the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into Indigenous incarceration
  • the NSW Law Reform Commission’s review of the Guardianship Act 1987
  • potential reforms to civil justice in New South Wales, following the New South Wales Government’s consultations on this issue
  • reforms to the penalty notice system.
  • early guilty plea reforms, including training for staff and private lawyers, and recruiting new staff.