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Annual Report 2017 - 2018

Highlights this year, how we made a difference to clients and communities

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

Expanding services in North West NSW

In 2017–2018 we reviewed our service delivery model in the North West of NSW after receiving feedback from our legal assistance partners, communities and non-legal service providers about the high levels of disadvantage experienced by communities in this region.

We consulted with local communities, and state-wide stakeholders, and created a plan outlining a staged approach to improving our service model in the region.

The first stage involves making changes to current criminal law service delivery including:

  • two additional in-house lawyers based at Dubbo Legal Aid NSW office. This will result in greater presence of in-house Legal Aid lawyers undertaking duty and case work at all Local Courts across the North West region including Bourke, Brewarrina, Cobar, Coonamble, Nyngan, Lightning Ridge, and Walgett at the Children’s Courts and Local Courts, and Bourke and Coonamble District Court.
  • two community liaison officers— Aboriginal identified positions based in Bourke and Walgett. These officers will have a key role in supporting the criminal lawyers, building relationships with local communities and assisting community members to understand and access our services.

Advice clinics in the heart of communities—we don’t wait for clients to come to us

Locations with regular legal outreach services 235
Outreach services for Aboriginal communities* 56
Locations with regular outreach services in regional and remote areas 185
Locations based in Centrelink offices 4
Locations where clients can access civil law advice** 171
Locations where clients can access family law advice** 108
Locations where clients can access criminal law advice*** 39

*Includes services provided by the Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities (CLSAC) at locations 6–8 times per year

**Some locations offer advice in more than one area of law

***Includes outreach to correctional centres as well as twenty two outreach locations where clients can access criminal law advice

Safety for victims of domestic violence on the Central Coast

The Legal Aid NSW Central Coast Domestic Violence Unit was launched by Attorney-General Christian Porter in Wyong on 21 February 2018. Legal Aid NSW received Commonwealth funding to establish the Central Coast Domestic Violence Unit under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children.

Dedicated lawyers who understand the effects of trauma attend apprehended domestic violence order list days at Wyong Local Court each week, identifying and offering immediate free help to victims of domestic violence. In addition to their work on the frontlines, lawyers will deliver intensive casework for clients facing legal issues including divorce, child abduction and financial abuse.

Beyond the courtroom, a dedicated social worker supports vulnerable clients who have experienced domestic and family violence.

Ongoing support for families affected by domestic and family violence

The purpose of the Legal Aid NSW Domestic and Family Violence Strategy 2016–2018 is to ensure that Legal Aid NSW delivers high quality client-centred services to people affected by domestic and family violence.

The strategy supports and aligns with broader government and justice sector goals to prevent and reduce domestic and family violence in NSW. A summary of the Strategy can be found on the Legal Aid NSW website under What we do > Domestic and family violence.

Under the Strategy, more specialised services were provided to victims of domestic and family violence.

Throughout the year, the Legal Aid NSW Domestic Violence Unit (DVU) provided services to victims of domestic and family violence on the apprehended violence order list days at Burwood, Fairfield, Liverpool and Bankstown Local Courts each week. The DVU was also on the Domestic Violence Duty Scheme roster at the Wollongong and Newcastle Local Courts.

The DVU provided outreach advice clinics at Burwood Community Welfare Services and Bankstown Women’s Health Centre. An outreach clinic on the Central Coast was also established in partnership with Coast Shelter.

The DVU delivered over 1,400 duty services in 2017–2018 in the Local Court. DVU specialist lawyers also delivered over 1,240 legal advice and over 640 minor assistance sessions to people experiencing domestic violence, from 77 different countries of origin.

In 2017–2018, the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services (WDVCASs) managed by the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program at Legal Aid NSW supported 43,947 clients, a 2.2% increase from 2016–2017.

The Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program (WDVCAP) rolled out the NSW Government’s Safer Pathway to 16 additional NSW locations, bringing the total number of operational sites to 43 Safer Pathway is a locally coordinated, holistic response to domestic and family violence.

Family and Advocacy Support Service (FASS)

Legal Aid NSW receives Commonwealth funding to provide the FASS in NSW under the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Children.

Under the national scheme, legal aid commissions across Australian states and territories work alongside specialist domestic violence services to help families affected by violence straddle both state and federal court systems. In NSW, Legal Aid NSW operates the FASS at family court registries in Parramatta, Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. The FASS provided over 7,650 duty services at the four family court registries in 2017–2018.

The FASS builds on existing duty services in family law court settings to offer legal advice, risk screening and assessments, safety planning, social support services and referrals for families affected by violence.

This year we created new resources for the FASS to assist women, men and families who need help with family law issues. This included new brochures about the FASS, FASS social support services for women and FASS social support services for men.

We also began work on a national domestic and family violence website and other resources to help people navigate the complexities of the interacting family law, protection order and child protection systems in each state and territory.

Implemented NSW Government’s package of criminal justice reforms

Early Appropriate Guilty Pleas reform

The Early Appropriate Guilty Pleas (EAGP) reform commenced 30 April 2018 and substantially changed the process and procedure for indictable matters in the Local Court.

The reform builds on recommendations of the NSW Law Reform Commission’s 2014 report 'Encouraging Appropriate Early Guilty Pleas'.

We established the EAGP Implementation Team to design and implement necessary changes across the organisation including changes to IT systems, the development of new procedures, work processes, agency and reform KPIs, and project management including risk identification and mitigation.

We reviewed and changed the panel and fee structure for private practitioners, amending grant of aid application and extension templates.

We redesigned our workforce: for Central Sydney, amalgamating the Committal and Indictable sections, and the Advocates Unit into three new Indictable Teams; and for regional offices, creating 14 Legal Officer and seven Legal Support Officer roles, following detailed analysis and consultation to assess relative business needs at each location. Additional Grants and Case Conferencing positions were also created to facilitate the reforms.

We also developed and delivered training to 259 Legal Aid NSW in-house practitioners and 468 private practitioners across NSW.

Advocating for vulnerable clients at the Royal Commission into Banking

This year Legal Aid NSW provided written submissions and case studies to the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. Our significant casework experience in financial services disputes has enabled us to highlight our assistance to vulnerable client groups to the Commission in relation to consumer lending and insurance products. In our submissions we highlighted critical systemic issues and inappropriate sales practices and misleading conduct on the sale and marketing of insurance products to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities as well as older people being provided home loans in the context of elder abuse.

Sentencing and parole reforms

Sentencing and Parole reforms commence on 24 September 2018.

In the first half of 2018 we designed a training package for in-house and private practitioners, as well as a number of justice sector partners. We will deliver the training in August and September 2018.

Increasing our services to Aboriginal communities

Strategies in the Legal Aid NSW Reconciliation Action Plan 2015–2018 address the legal needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities across New South Wales.

One of the goals is to provide legal services to Aboriginal communities that have difficulty accessing legal services and are experiencing high levels of disadvantage.

Our Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities (CLSAC) continued its work providing advice, casework and community legal education services to disadvantaged Aboriginal communities identified as having significant unmet legal need. Many of the services involved housing and consumer issues, fines and social security issues including assisting clients to avoid eviction, obtain repairs, ensure fair application of Housing NSW policies, and obtain compensation in unfair credit and consumer lease contracts.

This financial year, CLSAC provided 3525 advice and minor assistance services in addition to 138 ELAs and 17 grants of aid.

The team regularly visited 19 priority communities and held two outreach events in the Queensland border town of Mungindi. These events resulted in 114 advice and minor assistance services to Mungindi residents, up from just seven in 2015–2016. Consumer issues remained the top rating problem with 788 services, followed closely by housing at 720 and human rights at 594.

CLSAC has been tracking the benefits of its service for clients since 2015. Clients have received approximately $1,800,000, and overall the work of the team has led to 85% of matters resulting in a beneficial outcome for their clients.

Assisting members of the Stolen Generations to claim reparations has been a major focus of the CLSAC team’s work this financial year. As well as casework this work involves strategic advocacy and supporting the staff of the Civil Law Division with training on trauma informed practice and the policies of assimilation. Services to Stolen Generations members became CLSAC’s second most common matter type at 299 services.

Driver Disqualification reforms

Under the Road Transport Amendment (Driver Licence Disqualification) Act 2017 (NSW) which commenced in October 2017, an eligible person disqualified from driving who has served the relevant offence-free period can apply to the Local Court for the removal of their existing periods of disqualification.

The reforms are designed to have a significant effect in regional and rural NSW where limited public transport options impact on unauthorised drivers’ decisions to risk getting back behind the wheel.

Legal Aid NSW received funding from the NSW Government to assist clients and produce educational resources for the public.

We established a Driver Reform Implementation Team to produce information resources for lawyers and members of the public. The materials include brochures, facts sheets, website pages and a handbook designed for the legal profession.

We provided training on the reform to criminal lawyers across NSW and provided assistance and duty representation to over 400 applicants. We also ran outreach clinics and services in 15 regional and remote areas of NSW, including Broken Hill, Wilcannia, Bourke, and Brewarrina.

Disaster Response Service

Legal Aid NSW is the Government’s lead agency to provide legal services to people affected by natural disasters. Following the devastating bushfires in Tathra in March 2018, civil lawyers from across the state attended the disaster recovery centre for over four weeks and assisted over 60 families, many of whom had lost everything.

We provided advice on insurance claims, credit commitments, tenancy, employment and social security issues. We also worked with Insurers, the Insurance Council of Australia and the Financial Ombudsman Service to address systemic issues, and ensure a trauma informed claims process.

We also produced six factsheets and a booklet resource for people dealing with insurance companies after a natural disaster.

Elder Abuse Strategy

Legal Aid NSW has developed a two year Elder Abuse Strategy 2018–2019 to enhance and expand our services to people experiencing, or at risk of, elder abuse.

Elder abuse is defined by the World Health Organisation as "a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person". Elder abuse can take various forms such as financial, physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

Research and consultation confirms that there are barriers to delivering legal services to people experiencing or at risk of elder abuse. Legal Aid NSW seeks to respond to these barriers with the Legal Aid NSW Elder Abuse Strategy 2018–2019. It will be implemented in collaboration with organisations already working on elder abuse, including the Seniors Rights Service, the NSW Elder Abuse and Resource Unit, and the Law Society NSW. Some of the actions under the strategy include expanding community legal education activities and resources for people experiencing or at risk of elder abuse and expanding and strengthening outreach services that service or target vulnerable older people, including a new outreach at Northcott housing estate with the Seniors Rights Service.

Case studies iconCase study

Extended Legal Assistance helps vulnerable clients with multiple issues

JT, an older Aboriginal woman living on a disability pension, with low literacy and financial capability attended a clinic to discuss her ‘money worries’. She had a large number of consumer law issues and debts. Over nine months, with the assistance of the Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities financial counsellor, we helped her develop a Money Plan and clarify all financial obligations and debts; negotiate a repayment plan with a telco debt collection agency and Centrelink; advise her about funeral insurance options; have her credit card debt waived because the bank had breached their responsible lending obligations; resolve five separate household rentals matters; obtain family records from Aboriginal Affairs and advise her about her about Stolen Generations and Stolen Wages claims.

Case studies iconCase study

Extended Legal Assistance helps DV client with Centrelink debt

MA, a client who speaks limited English, had experienced long term severe family violence in both her family and marital relationships. She was not aware that Centrelink was paying money into her bank account after she left Australia urgently due to the family violence (which included threats to kill her if she did not return to her husband overseas). It appears a family member had accessed her bank account and taken her Centrelink money. We successfully argued at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) that our client’s Centrelink overpayment (approximately $30,000) was not a debt within the meaning of the legislation and that she should not have to repay it. This service was provided as part of an extended ELA and our involvement at this early stage helped us to secure a positive outcome for our client.

OBJECTIVE Excellence in legal services

Putting clients at the centre of everything we do

The Client Service Strategy 2016–2020 identifies strategic shifts and initiatives to improve our client service—mainly to provide services that are consistent and processes that are easy for clients to use. It also commits us to communicate clearly with clients and strengthen partnerships so clients are referred between legal and social services more easily.

This year we focused on redesigning client entry, as well as some more complex work such a longer term project to review the Legal Aid NSW advice model, and developing a strategic framework for advice services.

We are developing a new online booking system to improve the management of client bookings. The new system will improve client service by providing a streamlined process for staff to manage client bookings.

Following the successful trial of client kiosks at our Central Sydney and Gosford offices, we installed additional kiosks in six regional locations. The kiosks are operating at our Bankstown, Campbelltown, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Lismore and Penrith offices.

Clients can use the kiosks to print documents to support an application for a grant of aid and find legal information and resources to help with legal problems.

In 2017–18, we started an in-house review of our current legal advice service model. The review documents how we deliver advice to our clients at outreach advice sessions, inhouse office-based advice clinics, and through information services.

We will use this review to inform the development of a new Legal Aid NSW legal advice framework in 2018–2019.

Other actions to ensure our systems and processes are more efficient and effective—contributing to a better client experience—appear appear in Efficiency measures.

Triage model— tailored support for client needs

In 2017 the Client Service Unit worked on the first phase of the development of a triage model.

The development of a client-centred triage model is a key organisational commitment, a foundational initiative of the Legal Aid NSW Client Service Strategy 2016–2020. It is also a key action in the Legal Aid NSW Strategic Plan 2018–2023. One of the core aims is to triage and tailor legal support, based on individual legal and social needs and capability.

This year we conducted research and worked with the Law and Justice Foundation to draft an observation and survey tool and identify best practice.

In 2018–2019 we aim to implement the observation and survey tools in Legal Aid NSW offices and services and analyse the survey to assess client capability, disadvantage, the nature of the presenting legal problem and urgency to determine an appropriate and prioritised level of assistance.

calendar iconThe year ahead

  • Roll out client kiosks to all Legal Aid NSW offices.
  • Roll out a new client appointment booking system to Legal Aid NSW offices.
  • Progress work on our service model for priority client groups, especially prisoners and Aboriginal people.