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Annual Report 2018 - 2019

Governance framework

The Legal Aid Commission of NSW is established under the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979 (NSW) to improve access to justice for socially and economically disadvantaged members of our community. It is a statutory body representing the Crown.

The Legal Aid Commission of NSW is precluded from employing staff by section 47A of the Constitution Act 1902 (NSW). The Legal Aid Commission Staff Agency, a separate public service agency led by the CEO, employs staff to enable the Legal Aid Commission of NSW to exercise its functions. People employed in this way may be referred to as officers, employees or members of staff of the Legal Aid Commission of NSW.

Collectively, the Legal Aid Commission of NSW and the Legal Aid Commission Staff Agency are referred to as Legal Aid NSW. Our governance structure ensures that the business objectives of Legal Aid NSW are met in an ethical and effective manner.

Board and management roles and responsibilities

Legal Aid NSW has a Board that is responsible for establishing broad policies and strategic plans for Legal Aid NSW.

The daily management of Legal Aid NSW is overseen by the CEO, with assistance from the Deputy CEO and 10 directors who are listed on pages 88–89. Our CEO is also a member of the Board.

The CEO has a performance agreement with the NSW Attorney General. The Deputy CEO and directors have performance agreements with the CEO.

Our work is supported by a range of plans and policies to establish procedural requirements, standards and priorities as well as compliance with the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979 (NSW). These include the Legal Aid NSW Strategic Plan 2018–2023, Code of Conduct, Corruption and Fraud Prevention Plan, Service Disruption Plan, and the guidelines and policies that govern the availability of aid.

Progress under the Legal Aid NSW Strategic Plan 2018–2023

In March 2018, the Board of Legal Aid NSW approved our organisation’s first five-year strategic plan. The strategic plan is a roadmap designed to guide us over the medium term as we plan and strengthen service delivery and support our staff and partners to provide quality legal aid services.

Governance Framework

The five-year strategic plan commenced on 1 July 2018.

It sets out our vision – to be a leader in a legal system that delivers fair outcomes for disadvantaged and vulnerable people – and our purpose, which is to use the law to help people, particularly those who are disadvantaged, know, defend and assert their rights.

The plan outlines five key outcomes and the initiatives we will use to achieve them. Our outcomes under the strategic plan are:

  • high-quality, targeted services that meet our clients’ needs
  • partnerships that deliver the best possible outcomes or our clients
  • our work improves the legal and justice systems
  • a highly capable workforce that is flexible, developed and equipped, and
  • business processes that are responsive to our business needs.

Our Legal Aid NSW Strategic Plan 2018–2019 (Year One Plan) set out the work that we planned to deliver in the first 12 months of the five-year plan. It was approved by the Board on 19 June 2018 and commenced on 1 July 2018.

Progress against the Year One Plan was monitored by the executive each month and reviewed by the Board. At 30 June 2019, we had achieved most actions arising under the plan. Key actions carried over for 2019–20 included the development of a proposed knowledge management framework for Legal Aid NSW and shaping career and learning pathways to support the career development of our staff.

Achieving our vision – the next 12 months

A Legal Aid NSW Strategic Plan 2019–2020 was approved by the executive of Legal Aid NSW on 18 June 2019.

OBJECTIVE: Meeting clients' needs

In 2018–19 we began initiatives that focused on the ways clients enter our service. Over the next year we will build on this work by implementing a new triage and advice framework to help us better target the legal services we provide, integrating with LawAccess NSW, and delivering a Grants Tracker that allows clients and private lawyers to view the progress of applications for legal aid online.

A number of specialist services were evaluated in 2018–19, including the Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities and the Children’s Civil Law Service. The recommendations from these evaluations will be implemented in 2019–20.

In addition, new projects will include:

  • a new business process for internal referrals of clients
  • guided pathways for traffic and fine matters
  • a trial of a generalist lawyer model within our new Elder Abuse Service, and
  • a new reporting and planning tool for community legal education.

OBJECTIVE: Strong partnerships

A new framework for collaborative service-planning with our partners was developed in 2018–19. A focus in 2019–20 will be on piloting the new framework.

New projects will include the trial of an online referral resource.

OBJECTIVE: A fairer justice system

In 2018–19, we began implementing a strategic law reform agenda which sets out legislative, policy and operational reforms that we will prioritise and proactively pursue in 2019–20.

We will also work with the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department to implement improvements to the family law system, and monitor the implementation of criminal justice reforms in NSW.

Another key priority for 2019–20 is to communicate the value of the work we do to the NSW community.

OBJECTIVE: A highly capable workforce

In 2019–20 we will continue to implement:

  • a new administrative workforce plan
  • more efficient and effective arrangements for managing regional offices
  • career pathways, and
  • flexible working practices across the organisation.

OBJECTIVE: Responsive business processes

In 2019–20 we will continue to invest in our information technology and digital infrastructure to ensure we work efficiently and effectively. This will include completing the initial implementation of the Client Case Management System and the upgrade of our business intelligence technology.

In addition, we will develop and implement a new approach to information management to ensure that we capture and share our knowledge and experience.

Executive Program Management Office

The Executive Program Management Office (EPMO) provides centralised support for major change and project initiatives within Legal Aid NSW. It promotes organisationwide standards and processes and provides senior managers and the executive with information on progress, costs, resources and benefits across projects, which helps with key decisions.

The Executive Program Management Office is responsible for:

  • oversight of all projects defined as major projects
  • supporting and advising project teams and sponsors
  • facilitating reviews following the implementation of major projects, and
  • coordinating change management across all major projects.

Code of Conduct

The Legal Aid NSW Code of Conduct addresses the requirements of the Public Service Commission and the Government Sector Employment Act 2013 (NSW) ethical framework provisions.

The code:

  • sets the legal, ethical and institutional context for ethical conduct by NSW Government sector employees
  • provides advice to employees (executives, managers and staff) on demonstrating ethical good practice in leadership, decision-making and other responsibilities, and
  • clearly outlines the responsibility of all employees to know, understand and comply with the ethical and legal obligations that apply to them, both inside and outside the workplace.

The Code of Conduct has been included in the Legal Aid NSW induction program and individual planning.

All our lawyers are bound by professional practice standards and comply with continuing professional development requirements.

Financial performance

Legal Aid NSW has a strong financial focus, robust budgets and clear, concise reporting to internal and external stakeholders. Detailed monthly financial reports are prepared for the Audit and Risk Committee and the Board. A commentary including detailed analysis is also provided. The Director of Finance provides expert advice at Audit and Risk Committee and Board meetings.

Identifying and managing risk

Legal Aid NSW regularly conducts a risk assessment of its activities covering both strategic and operational risks. The risk assessment is used to prepare the Internal Audit Plan.

The Internal Audit Plan provides for additional audits should circumstances change during the year. The risk assessment is prepared using a methodology that recognises inherent risk and control effectiveness.

Each audit has a stated objective and scope of activity. All audit recommendations to improve controls require a management response detailing the action that will be taken to implement the recommendations, the designated responsible officer and an identified completion date for implementation.

Presentation of the Audit Plan and regular reports on the progress of audits and the implementation of audit recommendations are included on the agenda of the Audit and Risk Committee. The Audit Plan is based on a one-year risk assessment covering the period 2018–19.

In 2018–19 we met our audit target by completing five internal audits.

Performance audits completed

Performance audits completed

A flexible and responsive risk management process

Risk management and internal controls are overseen by the Audit and Risk Committee. Primary responsibility for managing risk and internal controls rests with line managers, who are required to ensure that an effective control environment operates within their area of responsibility.

Legal Aid NSW may undertake additional audits to meet contemporary issues and unforeseen developments. This provides the Audit and Risk Committee with appropriate flexibility and responsiveness.

The audits performed during the year were approved by the Audit and Risk Committee and are drawn from the 2018–19 risk assessment, which was also approved by the Audit and Risk Committee.

Risk Management Process

Report from the Audit and Risk Committee 2018–19

The primary objective of the Audit and Risk Committee is to advise the Board, including the CEO, on financial reporting practices, business ethics, policies and practices, accounting policies and internal controls.

Accordingly, the Committee oversees a range of activities, including the financial performance of Legal Aid NSW and the internal audit function.

The Committee comprises three independent members:

  • Michael Coleman – Chair
  • Peter Whitehead – Committee Member
  • Robyn Gray – Committee Member

The CEO, Deputy CEO and Chief Audit Executive, Director of Finance and Director of Policy, Planning and Programs also attend each meeting. Representatives from the NSW Audit Office also attend each meeting.

The Committee met on six occasions in 2018–19 and reviewed a range of matters including:

  • Financial reports
  • End-of-year financial statements
  • Strategic plan, associated risks and program progress
  • Updates on internal audits and the implementation of recommendations
  • Work, health and safety
  • Grant management efficiency assessment
  • Business continuity plans
  • Information security and cybersecurity
  • The Client and Case Management System
  • Updated risk assessment, audit and risk charter, and internal audit plan. The following internal audits were undertaken during the year:
  • Assessment of community legal education information collection, classification and reporting
  • Protective security risk assessment
  • Staff movements
  • ISO27001 Information Security Management System Surveillance Review
  • Follow-up audit review.

Monique Hitter
Deputy CEO and Chief Audit Executive
August 2019

Internal Audit and Risk Management Attestation Statement for 2018–19

I, Brendan Thomas, am of the opinion that Legal Aid NSW has internal audit and risk management processes in operation that are, excluding the exceptions or transitional arrangements described below, compliant with the eight (8) core requirements set out in the Internal Audit and Risk Management Policy for the NSW Public Sector, specifically:

Core Requirements Status*
Risk Management Framework
1.1 The agency head is ultimately responsible and accountable for risk management in the agency. Compliant
1.2 A risk management framework that is appropriate to the agency has been established and maintained and the framework is consistent with AS/NZS ISO 31000:2009 Compliant
Internal Audit Function
2.1 An internal audit function has been established and maintained Compliant
2.2 The operation of the internal audit function is consistent with the International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing Compliant
2.3 The agency has an Internal Audit Charter that is consistent with the content of the ‘model charter’ Compliant
Audit and Risk Committee
3.1 An independent Audit and Risk Committee with appropriate expertise has been established Compliant
3.2 The Audit and Risk Committee is an advisory committee providing assistance to the agency head on the agency’s governance processes, risk management and control frameworks, and its external accountability obligations Compliant
3.3 The Audit and Risk Committee has a Charter that is consistent with the content of the ‘model charter’ Compliant

* For each requirement, please specify whether compliant, noncompliant, or in transition


The chair and members of the Audit and Risk Committee are:

  • Mr Michael Coleman Independent Chair
    Start term date: 29 June 2016
    - Finish term date: 23 June 2021
  • Mr Peter Whitehead Independent Member
    Start term date: 28 October 2014
    - Finish term date: 11 March 2020
  • Ms Robyn Gray Independent Member
    Start term date: 11 March 2017
    - Finish term date: 11 March 2020

Brendan Thomas
September 2019

Members of the Audit and Risk Committee

Peter Whitehead is a lawyer and the former Public Trustee of NSW. Mr Whitehead was part of the original committee reviewing the role of audit within the NSW Government. He has since chaired a number of NSW Government audit and risk committees, including for the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, what was then the NSW Attorney General’s Department, the NSW Crime Commission and the Judicial Commission of NSW. He currently works in the financial services industry.

Robyn Gray is a lawyer, accredited mediator and principal of Herne Gray and Associates Pty Ltd. She brings to the committee more than 25 years’ experience as a prosecutor, investigator and legal manager in Commonwealth and NSW public sector agencies and several Royal Commissions. In 2007, Ms Gray established her own consultancy to serve public sector and not-for-profit agencies. She is an independent member of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions Executive Board, the Justice Health Human Research Ethics Committee and three public sector audit and risk committees.

Other members of the Audit and Risk Committee are Michael Coleman, Monique Hitter and Kylie Beckhouse.

Business continuity

We have a Service Disruption Plan that is activated when an event renders Legal Aid NSW unable to continue to provide services from a regional office or a metropolitan office, including Central Sydney.

The plan addresses a range of actions that are required to manage such events and provides for a recovery management team to oversee the recovery process.

Fraud and corruption processes

Legal Aid NSW is committed to conducting business with honesty and transparency. Our Corruption and Fraud Prevention Plan outlines the steps we take to prevent fraud and other corrupt behaviour.

The plan addresses a number of controls, including responsibility structure, risk assessment, reporting systems, investigation standards and conduct and disciplinary standards.

It complements related policies including the Code of Conduct and Protected Disclosure Policy.

Cyber-security Annual Attestation Statement for the 2018–2019 Financial Year for Legal Aid NSW

I, Brendan Thomas, CEO of Legal Aid NSW, am of the opinion that Legal Aid NSW has managed cybersecurity risks in a manner consistent with the mandatory requirements set out in the NSW Government Cyber Security Policy.

Risks to the information and systems of Legal Aid NSW have been assessed and continue to be reviewed and managed.

Governance is in place to manage the cyber-security maturity and initiatives of Legal Aid NSW.

Legal Aid NSW is in the process of developing a cyber-security incident response plan. Cyber-security incidents, should they occur, are escalated to the NSW Government chief information security officer governance forums as required.

An independent audit of the ISO 27001-certified Legal Aid NSW Information Security Management System was undertaken by ISO-accredited auditors and found to be adequate.

Brendan Thomas
October 2019

Year ahead iconThe year ahead

  • We will conduct six performance audits.
  • We will implement the Legal Aid NSW Strategic Plan 2019–20 (Year Two Plan).