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Annual Report 2016 - 2017

Justice forums

Legal Aid NSW is a member of several state and national forums that work collectively to find better ways of dealing with key legal issues affecting people’s legal rights.

OBJECTIVE Strong partnerships

National Legal Aid—advising the Commonwealth government

National Legal Aid (NLA) provides a forum for Legal Aid Commissions to engage at a national level with governments, stakeholders and the community about best practice in legal aid and related issues.

NLA comprises the CEOs and directors of the Legal Aid Commissions in each of the states and territories in Australia. NLA is supported by working groups and networks in areas of work such as family law, criminal law, civil law and community legal education. These working groups and networks include representatives from each of the legal aid commissions.

NLA met in July and November 2016 and March 2017 to discuss issues of national strategic importance. Members met with Commonwealth officials to provide advice about the impact of Commonwealth law and policies, and to contribute to Commonwealth law reform initiatives.

NLA initiatives during 2016–2017 included:

  • proposing a national Family Advocacy and Support Service at family law court registries to the Commonwealth to address recommendations of the Third National Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, and coordinating its implementation
  • developing the National Independent Children’s Lawyer training
  • developing a data indicator for Legal Aid Commissions to record elder abuse
  • providing media commentary on property-related elder abuse
  • updating its Charter and reviewing its strategic priorities.

NLA also provided submissions to the Australian Government and to the Australian Law Reform Commission on:

  • a better family law system to support and protect those affected by family violence
  • proposed amendments to the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) to respond to family violence
  • the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into Elder Abuse
  • consultation by the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department on draft terms of reference for the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into the incarceration rate of Indigenous Australians
  • the 2017–2018 Federal Budget.

Projects focus on better access to legal services for vulnerable clients

The NSW Legal Assistance Forum (NLAF) brings together key legal assistance services across the government, non-government and private sectors in New South Wales. It aims to improve service delivery to socially and economically disadvantaged people through better planning, program design and service delivery by providers of legal assistance services.

Nassim Arrage from Community Legal Centres NSW chaired NLAF in 2016. The current chair is Richard Funston, Deputy CEO, Legal Aid NSW. Legal Aid NSW staff participate in or chair NLAF working groups. This year NLAF welcomed the NSW Family Violence Prevention Legal Services as a member and a representative from the NSW Attorney General’s Office also attended quarterly meetings. Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department representatives attended two meetings.

NLAF members:

  • Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Ltd
  • Community Legal Centres NSW (CLCNSW)
  • Department of Justice NSW
  • Justice Connect
  • LawAccess NSW
  • Law and Justice Foundation of NSW
  • Law Society of NSW
  • Legal Aid NSW
  • Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC)
  • NSW Bar Association
  • NSW Family Violence Prevention Legal Services
  • Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

Working groups are advocates for change

NLAF had three working groups in 2016–2017: Prisoners Forum, Fines and Traffic Law Working Group and Education Act Prosecutions Working Group. Working Group reports are available on the NLAF website www.nlaf.org.au

Legal Aid NSW and the Department of Education worked together in the Education Act Prosecutions Working Group, which aims to improve the referral of listed matters to ensure parents and children have access to legal representation. The Group developed a flyer and poster promoting the availability of legal representation for matters under the Education Act 1990.

These were distributed to Children’s and Local Court Registrars, Community Legal Centre Care Partners, Department of Education staff, Legal Aid NSW offices and private lawyer panel coordinators.

Births, Deaths and Marriages joined the Fines and Traffic Law Working Group to contribute to discussions around the identified barriers preventing people from accessing their birth certificates and the legal consequences, particularly for Aboriginal and disadvantaged people living in remote communities.

The Prisoners Forum was well attended by government and non-government services working with prisoners. A range of services gave presentations, including the Miranda Project, Prisoners Aid NSW, NSW Gambling Help, Inspector of Custodial Services, Justice Health and Weave Creating Futures Justice Program. These presentations often result in the development of new cooperative arrangements between services that attend.

The year ahead

  • Assist National Legal Aid in developing a national training program for Independent Children’s Lawyers under a Commonwealth Grant Agreement.
  • Assist National Legal Aid in developing a community legal education resource to help people navigate the family violence and family law systems under a Commonwealth Grant Agreement.
  • Contribute to National Legal Aid law reform activities on issues including family law, responding to elder abuse, and the legal needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Support the implementation of New South Wales driver licence disqualification law reform.
  • Support the final stages of the joint audio-visual link project rollout across New South Wales prisons, courts and legal assistance service offices.