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Annual Report 2017 - 2018

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 2017 and March 2018 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 2017–2018 included:

  • Developing a national family violence and family law community legal education website resource to support the role out of the Family Advocacy & Support Service.
  • Investigating the introduction of an online dispute resolution system (ODRS) for couples that are separating or divorcing in Australia to assist them to resolve their family law disputes with less reliance on formal pathways. Seed funding for the ODRS is being provided under the Commonwealth Government’s Online Dispute Resolution System for Separating Couples agreement.
  • Developing a pilot advice and legal task service to low income applicants in either Federal Circuit or Family Court proceedings.

NLA also provided a number of submissions to the Australian Government and to the Australian Law Reform Commission, including to the:

  • Attorney-General’s Department Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2017 consultation paper and exposure draft
  • ALRC Inquiry into the incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Discussion Paper 84
  • Law Council of Australia The Justice Project
  • The Treasury 2018–2019 Federal Budget
  • Senate Standing Committee on Legal & Constitutional Affairs Inquiry Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2017
  • Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet Closing the Gap Refresh The Next Phase Discussion Paper
  • AGD Rights & Protections Privacy Review of Consumer Credit Reporting and Hardship

The NSW Legal Assistance Forum (NLAF)— focusing on better access to legal services for vulnerable clients

The NSW Legal Assistance Forum (NLAF) brings together key legal assistance services across the government, nongovernment 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.

NLAF was chaired by Richard Funston (Deputy CEO, Legal Aid NSW) this year until he was appointed to the bench in March 2018. Deputy Chair, Geoff Mulherin (Law and Justice Foundation of NSW), acted as Chair for the last quarter of the year, when Brendan Thomas (CEO, Legal Aid NSW) was elected as the incoming chair of NLAF.

NLAF met quarterly, and its members include:

  • 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)

The NSW Civil Justice Strategy (Department of Justice) and the NSW Attorney General’s office provided quarterly updates to NLAF, and the Commonwealth Attorney- General’s department provided half yearly updates.

NLAF received reports from its working groups, as well as Community Legal Centres, the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, and the Legal Aid NSW Cooperative Legal Services Delivery (CLSD) Program.

Working groups are advocates for change. NLAF had two working groups in 2017–2018: Prisoners Forum and Fines and Traffic Law Working Group.

The Fines and Traffic Law working Group focus for the last five five years has been on increasing access to birth certificates. This year Attorney General announced that free birth certificates will be provided to Aboriginal and disadvantaged community members.

The Prisoners Forum was well attended by government and non-government services working with prisoners. The main focuses this year were on the topics of women in prison and prisoners’ health.

In March 2018, the Prisoners Forum worked with the Fines and Traffic Law Working Group to successfully resolve an issue relating Victims Restitution Orders (VRO) and Work and Development Orders (WDO) in prison.

Working Group reports are available on the NLAF website www.nlaf.org.au.

calendar iconThe year ahead

  • Support collaborative planning by establishing a new Collaborative Service Planning Working Group.
  • Establish a new working group to investigate and find solutions to the issue of Aboriginal overrepresentation in prison.
  • Support the implementation of the New South Wales driver licence disqualification law reform.