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Annual Report 2018 - 2019

Justice forums

Legal Aid NSW is a member of state and national forums that work collectively to build a fairer justice system and break down barriers to accessing legal services.

OBJECTIVE: Strong partnerships

National Legal Aid: legal aid commissions speak with one voice

National Legal Aid 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.

National Legal Aid comprises the CEOs and directors of the eight legal aid commissions in each of the states and territories in Australia. It 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.

National Legal Aid met three times in 2018–19 to discuss issues of national strategic importance.

National Legal Aid initiatives during 2018–19 included:

  • extending the Family Advocacy and Support Service (FASS) to include dedicated men’s support workers in all FASS locations, providing appropriate support services including parenting programs and behavioural change programs for both alleged perpetrators and male victims of family violence
  • a proposal to establish a National Legal Advisory Service to support people with disability, their families and advocates to share their experiences with the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability
  • a new national website, Family Violence Law Help, to empower victims of domestic and family violence (see National website is a first port of call)
  • the development of a proposal to establish a Veterans’ National Legal Service and a Veterans’ National Legal Helpline as recommended by the Cornall report (see Serving those who have served our country)
  • trialling lawyer-assisted mediation for family law property matters over two years, and
  • developing the Commonwealth Family Violence and Cross-Examination of Parties Scheme (see Protecting victims of family violence).

National Legal Aid also provided submissions to the Australian Government and to the Australian Law Reform Commission on:

  • draft terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability
  • a Department of Social Services review of the coordination and funding of financial counselling services across Australia
  • a better family law system to support and protect those affected by family violence and legislation relating to bans on personal cross-examination in certain family law proceedings
  • the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department’s reviews of the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program and the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015–2020, and
  • the Law Council of Australia's review of the Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules.

Legal Aid NSW CEO Brendan Thomas was appointed Chair of National Legal Aid in March 2019 for one year. Legal aid commission directors rotate through the position of Chair of National Legal Aid and act as its primary spokesperson during their terms.

OBJECTIVE: A fairer justice system

NSW Legal Assistance Forum: cross-sector collaboration promotes access to justice

The NSW Legal Assistance Forum brings together key legal assistance services from across the government, nongovernment and private sectors in NSW. 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.

This year the NSW Legal Assistance Forum established a working group to develop a more comprehensive approach to collaborative service-planning in NSW that focuses on the delivery of legal assistance to priority clients and ensures services are provided in areas of greatest need. Legal Aid NSW chairs the working group and is providing secretariat support for the project. The working group meets monthly and includes representatives from the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT), the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW and the NSW Department of Justice. During 2018–19, the working group developed agreed regional catchment areas for legal service-planning across NSW. Its next focus will be finalising catchment areas for metropolitan Sydney.

A working group was also established to address the over-representation of Aboriginal people in adult prisons in NSW. The Aboriginal incarceration working group is exploring options to address concerns that a significant number of Aboriginal people are being refused bail for breaches of bail conditions such as curfews or residence restrictions, even though they do not ultimately receive a custodial sentence. This means that many Aboriginal people are in custody for breaches of bail conditions, even where they would be unlikely to face a prison sentence for the offence for which they were on bail.

The NSW Legal Assistance Forum fines and traffic law working group and its prisoners forum jointly established a prisoners and identification documents sub-committee, with the aim of identifying and resolving issues that prevent prisoners leaving custody without a suitable identification document.

Legal Aid NSW CEO Brendan Thomas was chair of the NSW Legal Assistance Forum during this year.

NSW Legal Assistance Forum members in 2018–19

  • Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT)
  • Community Legal Centres NSW
  • NSW Department of Justice
  • Justice Connect
  • LawAccess NSW
  • Law and Justice Foundation of NSW
  • Law Society of NSW
  • Legal Aid NSW
  • Legal Information Access Centre
  • NSW Bar Association
  • NSW Family Violence Prevention Legal Services
  • Public Interest Advocacy Centre

Year ahead iconThe year ahead

  • We will pilot enhanced collaborative service-planning in four regional catchment areas. The pilots will be led by Cooperative Legal Service Delivery Program regional coordinators and are an initiative of the NSW Legal Assistance Forum working group on collaborative service-planning.
  • We will contribute to negotiating the terms of the next National Partnership Agreement through National Legal Aid.
  • We will play a key role in establishing and coordinating a new National Legal Advisory Service for people participating in the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.