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Annual Report 2017 - 2018

Our policies help to narrow the 'justice gap'

To ensure access to justice for those most in need, we amended some of our policies.

We ensured our eligibility policies meet the legal needs of the most disadvantaged people across the state.

Policy changes included taking into account personal vulnerability criteria to make sure more people facing disadvantage can access our services.

OBJECTIVE Access to justice

Providing a targeted early intervention service to our most vulnerable clients

We increased our services to Aboriginal people, young people and homeless people in key legal areas such as consumer, social security and veterans’ law with a pilot of a new form of representation service called Extended Legal Assistance (ELA).

ELA includes assisting a client in a matter (or multiple matters) and aims to help the client to resolve their legal problems before they proceed to a court of tribunal. The ELA pilot was limited to clients with civil law problems.

The Civil Law Division started the ELA pilot on 1 July 2017 with two categories of services. First, clients with complex needs who need assistance with a range of legal issues. Second, clients who are vulnerable and need help with certain legal problems.

In 2017–2018 we approved 515 Extended Legal Assistance services. The most prominent ELA services have been for consumer law issues – in particular credit and payday loans and public tenancy.

Means test changes

In July 2017, we expanded the types of applicants who do not have to verify their means. This change meant that any applicant for legal aid on a Centrelink income support payment who discloses less than $1500 in savings does not have to verify their means. Applicants applying for Local Court criminal law proceedings who are in custody and have disclosed less than $1500 in savings are also exempted from the requirement to verify means. The change recognises that simplifying means verification is an important step towards simplifying the grant application process for clients.

Driver Disqualification

Following the introduction of the NSW Government scheme which enables a disqualified driver to apply to the Local Court for an order removing their current driver disqualifications, we introduced a policy making legal aid available for applications to the Local Court to remove driver licence disqualifications. The policy recognises that lengthy disqualification periods have a serious and disproportionate social impact on vulnerable people, especially those living in remote communities.

Criminal Law Appeals

Following a review of our policies for appeals to higher courts in criminal matters, we made changes to our guidelines for Criminal Law matters. In particular we created a new guideline to reflect the proviso under the Criminal Appeal Act 1912 (NSW) when assessing whether there are reasonable prospects of success. The change ensures we can deliver legal aid in the most effective, efficient and economical manner while similarly ensuring that disadvantaged people can access a right of appeal in criminal matters.

National Disability Insurance Scheme

In March 2018, we introduced an amendment to Legal Aid NSW policy for civil law matters making legal aid available for representation in the Administrative Appeal Tribunal (AAT) for review of a decision made by the National Disability Insurance Agency. The change means that Legal Aid NSW will be assisting highly vulnerable and disadvantaged clients to appeal against a decision in relation to accessing national disability insurance. Recognising the level of disadvantage experienced by these clients, there is no Means Test applied or contribution imposed under the policy.

Coronial Inquests

In May 2018 we amended the policy relating to Coronial Inquests to make it clear that legal aid is available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in relation to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander death in custody. The policy change acknowledges the historical disadvantage and prejudices that Indigenous people have experienced, particularly within the criminal justice system; experiences which will often leave families feeling suspicious of the circumstances around deaths in custody.

Ensuring vulnerable clients can access legal help

In 2017–2018 we began a comprehensive review of the Legal Aid NSW eligibility policies to ensure our policies are articulated in way that is clear and accessible and reflect our funding priorities.

calendar iconThe year ahead

  • Complete a comprehensive review of all our policies drawing on evidence-based research.
  • Roll out Extended Legal Assistance to family law matters.