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Annual Report 2017 - 2018

Chair's report

Craig Smith, Chairman of the boardOn behalf of the Board I am pleased to introduce the 2017–2018 Annual Report.

The Board is responsible for establishing the broad policies and strategic plans of Legal Aid NSW. The members of the Board bring a diverse range of backgrounds, expertise and experience to this role. In the interest of transparency a summary of the decisions made at each Board meeting is published in this report.

Addressing longer term planning

Legal Aid NSW faces a number of challenges including an increasing demand for services, finite resources and changing social conditions. To deal with these challenges, in October 2017, we commenced developing a longer term five year strategic plan.

Following extensive consultation with staff and targeted external consultation, in March 2018, the Board was pleased to approve a number of strategic initiatives for inclusion in the Legal Aid NSW Plan 2018-2023. These strategic initiatives underpin the five outcomes of this plan, aimed at delivering:

  • High quality, targeted services that meet our clients’ needs
  • Partnerships that deliver the best possible outcomes for our clients
  • Work that improves the legal and justice systems
  • A highly capable workforce that is flexible, developed and equipped
  • Business processes that are responsive to our business needs.

We look forward to overseeing the implementation of these initiatives so we can continue to deliver quality legal aid services to the people of NSW.

The Board continued to monitor the implementation of the 2017–2018 Plan, the Diversity Action Plan, the Health and Safety Plan, and the Reconciliation Action Plan.

Review of private practitioner fees

Legal Aid NSW values its partnership with private practitioners, which is critical to providing legal services to disadvantaged people. In the 2017– 18 financial year, private practitioners acted in 66% of all grants of legal aid and undertook 40% of all duty lawyer work. Without this partnership, Legal Aid NSW would be unable to deliver the large number of services across NSW, particularly in regional and remote areas.

Legal Aid NSW’s fee scales for private practitioners have remained largely unchanged since 2007. In seeking to address the risks created by inadequate remuneration the Board re-established the Crime and Grants Sub-Committee to advise the Board on fees, funding, policy and service delivery issues. The Committee has consulted widely with the legal profession, including with the NSW Law Society, the Bar Association of NSW and individual private practitioners. We are seeking to have the issue of the adequate remuneration of private practitioners settled as soon as possible in order to be able to provide appropriate legal representation for all eligible clients and to aid the efficient administration of justice.

Governance of the Board of Legal Aid NSW

In November 2017 the Board approved a new comprehensive Board Code of Conduct and also a Board Charter. The Code of Conduct is intended to convey in plain words the obligations and behaviour expected of Board members. The Board Charter is intended to convey in plain words the statutory, common law and general administrative requirements that apply to the Board and any sub-committee.

The Board also considered the obligations of Board members under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and took steps to ensure compliance with those obligations.

The Board approved a revised Audit and Risk Committee Charter and an Internal Audit Charter.

Changes to policy approved

The Board approved a number of changes to policy to reflect reforms made to the justice system, including the driver disqualification reforms and the Early Appropriate Guilty Pleas reform. We also approved amendments to the eligibility policy to make it easier for clients on a Centrelink benefit to verify their means. The Board also approved a new type of service delivery called Extended Legal Assistance to support clients with multiple legal problems.

Audits review performance and manage risks

The Board monitored our organisation’s performance under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services, and its budgets and financial statements and appointed new members of the Legal Aid Review Committees.

Special thanks

Thank you to all involved in the provision of legal aid.

I would like to thank our partners, including the private profession, Public Defenders and the legal assistance sector, for forging strong partnerships to improve access to justice.

In particular, I would like to pay tribute to the staff of Legal Aid NSW, for their ongoing commitment to delivering innovative and high quality legal services.

Craig Smith
Chair, Legal Aid NSW