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Annual Report 2018 - 2019

Effective partnerships benefit the community

Cross-sector partnerships help identify clients’ legal problems earlier and provide integrated services.

OBJECTIVE: Meeting clients' needs

Achieving better health and legal outcomes for clients

Legal Aid NSW has been a leader in establishing health justice partnerships in NSW. We now provide services through 25 health justice initiatives in hospitals, mental health and drug and alcohol facilities, community centres and service hubs in housing and residential estates.

There is evidence that medical and legal issues are often intertwined. Many of our clients experience health issues that have been caused or exacerbated by their legal problems, or legal problems that stem from their health issues. The evidence also tells us that people are more likely to open up to a doctor or other trusted health professional about problems they are experiencing than to a lawyer, particularly if they have not identified that their problems involve a legal component.

Health justice partnerships establish collaborative ways of working to enhance the ability of clients engaged in health services to interact, seek out and engage with legal services. This model can lead to timely identification of legal needs and resolve legal problems before they escalate.

In 2018–19 we deepened our commitment to health justice initiatives:

  • Legal Aid NSW Wollongong, in partnership with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, organised a Connecting Health and Justice forum attended by more than 200 health, justice and community sector professionals.
  • We helped establish the NSW Health Justice Partnerships Network to strengthen and consolidate collaboration between organisations operating or involved with health justice initiatives. The network is chaired by Legal Aid NSW and its membership includes government and non-government organisations.
  • Our staff attended training to build our capacity to work with our health and human services partners towards better client outcomes.
  • Our health justice partnership with Blacktown Hospital was expanded to include civil law services in addition to family law services.
  • The health justice partnership between Legal Aid NSW, the Northern Sydney Local Health District and the Bungee Bidgel Aboriginal Health Clinic was expanded to provide information, advice and minor assistance to general inpatients, outpatients and staff at Hornsby Hospital.
  • Legal Aid NSW and We Help Ourselves Rozelle agreed to an evaluation of our partnership. This process-based evaluation will take place in 2019–20 and will consider the appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency of the legal assistance investment by Legal Aid NSW in this health justice partnership, with a focus on whether the partnership reduces barriers to legal assistance for residents.

Story iconA safe start to life, with kin close by

During an outreach service in a health clinic, a family lawyer from the Legal Aid NSW Early Intervention Unit met Maureen*, an Aboriginal woman. Maureen told our lawyer that she was the aunt of an unborn baby. The baby’s parents were both using the drug ice and their older children had all been removed. Since discovering she was pregnant, the mother had been avoiding any contact with authorities. The parents agreed that Maureen was the best person to take care of their baby.

Our lawyer drafted an urgent application for the child to live with Maureen. The application was filed in the Indigenous List in the Federal Circuit Court at Sydney, a specialised list that focuses on supportive, less adversarial processes in appropriate cases.

Our lawyer appeared on Maureen’s behalf and the parents appeared by telephone to confirm that they agreed to the proposed arrangement. Family and Community Services NSW was advised, and agreed with the plan.

Consent orders for the child to live with Maureen were made by the court within hours of the birth.

Our involvement meant there was no need for care and protection proceedings to be commenced in the Children’s Court of NSW, and that the baby went directly from hospital to the home of an Aboriginal relative.

* Not her real name

OBJECTIVE: Strong partnerships

Justice without borders for communities living along the NSW–Victoria divide

We worked with Victoria Legal Aid to identify the legal issues faced by clients in cross-border communities and the barriers they experience when seeking timely legal assistance. Our investigation culminated in the Cross-Border Justice Report, which outlined our plans to improve access to legal assistance along the NSW–Victorian border. The report followed extensive consultation with legal aid staff, private practitioners, Aboriginal legal services, community legal centres and other social and justice professionals along the border.

Many border communities experience complex and unique challenges in accessing justice and have a proportionally higher demand for legal services than other parts of NSW and Victoria. Living at the intersection of two sets of rules makes understanding legal obligations more difficult. Residents may also be ineligible for services that are physically closer to them because of jurisdictional boundaries.

Our report highlighted some of the issues faced by border communities:

  • Bail, parole and community corrections orders generally treat interstate travel as exceptional. These orders may be unduly restrictive when applied to people who live in border communities, who may need to cross the border regularly to work, access support services or visit family.
  • Clients seeking legal assistance in border communities are at risk of missing out on the help they need because of inconsistent approaches to client referrals.
  • Border community residents may not be able to access interstate legal services, even when they live closer to these services than to services located in their own state.
  • In many border communities, only a small number of private lawyers act in legally aided matters.
  • Family law matters are not always heard at the court closest to where separating family members live.

The report made 14 recommendations to address these issues and create opportunities for Legal Aid NSW and Victoria Legal Aid to take a more deliberate approach to the way we work together. We hope to improve outcomes for clients and private lawyers in border communities by:

  • advocating for bail, parole and community corrections orders that consider the need for regular interstate travel in border communities
  • developing a clear procedure for referring cross-border clients between commissions
  • trialling a more flexible approach to applying the legal aid forum test for those living in cross-border communities, to enable clients to access legal assistance at a location that suits the clients, regardless of whether they reside in NSW or Victoria, and
  • working with the NSW and Victorian Cross-Border Commissioners to continue to improve border justice issues.

The report and its recommendations are the first step to ensuring that the barriers NSW and Victorian border communities face in accessing legal assistance are recognised and addressed collaboratively by Legal Aid NSW and Victoria Legal Aid.

Collaborating with other agencies helps us tackle systemic issues

This year we created a Strategic Partnerships Framework to build on our positive relationships with agencies in the community and justice sectors.

The framework aims to:

  • influence the legislative, policy and program environment in which we work
  • manage the competing demands in the justice system, and
  • improve access to and the quality of legal aid, legal assistance and client support services.

The framework has guided us to establish formal partnerships with key agencies in the legal and justice sector. We now have a relationship coordinator for each agency so that urgent issues can be escalated quickly. In addition, we established an executive sub-committee that oversees these partnerships.

In 2018–19 we focused on partnerships with the NSW Police Force, Family and Community Services NSW, the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT), the NSW Department of Justice, Corrective Services NSW and the Commonwealth Attorney- General’s Department.

Partnership helps prepare prisoners to reintegrate with the community

This year, civil lawyers worked intensively with prisoners serving short sentences to resolve legal problems ahead of their release. Prisoners transitioning back into the community can face a range of legal issues that may contribute to reoffending, including housing issues, unpaid fines and debt.

Working with Corrective Services NSW, civil lawyers began providing legal services at High Intensity Program Units (HIPUs) across the state. These units target inmates serving short sentences, who may otherwise have limited access to rehabilitation programs due to the length of their sentences. HIPU programs aim to address the issues associated with prisoners’ offending and support them to successfully reintegrate with the community on release.

Civil lawyers provide regular advice clinics, community legal education and casework assistance in complex legal matters. This early intervention model aims to prevent the escalation of legal issues whilst a client is in custody, and our assistance continues post-release.