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Annual Report 2019 - 2020

Highlights from our practice areas

We have three areas of legal practice: criminal law, family law, and civil law. Each practice includes specialist services. Staff from different practice areas regularly collaborate to better serve clients with multiple legal needs and to apply a wide lens to law reform initiatives. Increasingly, our specialist services follow a multidisciplinary model.

Fact file
Total staff: 466
Total expenditure on criminal law services: $168.5M
Proportion of overall expenditure on criminal law services: 45.3%

Criminal law

Our criminal law practice is the largest criminal law practice in Australia. It provides legal information, advice and minor assistance, extended legal assistance, duty services and representation in criminal courts at each jurisdictional level across the state. These services are available at our offices and at 40 outreach locations.

The Children’s Legal Service, Prisoners Legal Service, Drug Court Service, High Risk Offender Unit, Indictable Appeals Unit and Commonwealth Crime Unit provide specialist services. The practice offers community legal education throughout NSW and contributes to law reform initiatives.

Legal Aid NSW High Risk Offender Unit successfully opposes extended supervision order application

State of New South Wales v RC (No.2) [2019] NSWSC 845

Our High Risk Offender Unit has represented a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders facing applications under the Terrorism (High Risk Offenders) Act 2017 (NSW) to keep them in custody or under strict supervision after their sentence has expired.

In one such case, we acted for a young Aboriginal man with a complex mental health condition and a previously undiagnosed cognitive health condition. He had spent a substantial portion of his life in juvenile and adult custody as a result of what the court described as “the lower end of the scale of seriousness of criminality.”

Our client had never been convicted of any terrorist offence and there was no evidence of violent extremism in the community, but the State argued that he had been radicalised in juvenile detention and should be classified as a high risk terrorist offender. The State pointed to provocative statements and threats made by our client while in juvenile detention as well as pictures he drew in his cell representing Islamic State, Arabic writing and weapons.

The unchallenged evidence of court-appointed experts was that our client did not have a serious commitment towards any extremist ideology that promotes violence. In dismissing the State’s application, the court said that RC’s statements could be seen as those of an individual trying to build up a reputation, and to give the appearance of toughness. The State’s application was dismissed.

New High Risk Offender Unit

To meet the significant increase in the volume and complexity of high risk offender and high risk terrorist offender applications, Legal Aid NSW established a specialist High Risk Offender Unit in October 2019.

High risk offender applications are dealt with in the NSW Supreme Court and invariably involve large amounts of complex evidence, and clients with histories of significant disadvantage and underlying mental or cognitive impairment. Legal aid is available to provide advice, minor assistance and representation to defendants who are (or may be) the subject of these applications.

Expansion of the Prisoners Legal Service

The Prisoners Legal Service is the only statewide representative defence body in State Parole Authority (SPA) proceedings and represents the vast majority of individuals appearing before SPA.

Sentencing reforms introduced in 2018 included an expansion of intensive corrections orders (ICOs). ICOs are a term of imprisonment of up to two years that the court decides can be served in the community under supervision by a corrections officer. Any breaches are reported to the SPA and the SPA can decide to revoke an ICO which results in the offender being sent to prison. The Prisoners Legal Service appears in these matters.

As a result of these changes, the Prisoners Legal Service has seen an unprecedented increase (close to 200 percent) in ICO-related appearances before SPA. The Prisoners Legal Service was therefore expanded in February 2020 with the addition of two senior lawyers.

Case Conferencing Hub to support lawyers and clients

Mandatory criminal case conferencing between parties is a key component of the 2018 Early Appropriate Guilty Pleas (EAGP) reforms. The EAGP reforms were designed to facilitate the appropriate early resolution of serious criminal law matters, and to reduce court time for those matters that do proceed to trial.

In July 2019, we opened a new, purpose-built facility in Legal Aid NSW’s Central Sydney office to provide a dedicated space for case conferences. The Case Conferencing Hub is available to both private practitioners and Legal Aid NSW lawyers who need to conduct a mandatory criminal case conference. It can also be booked for EAGP case conferences in non-legally aided matters.

Police charge papers delivered electronically

As a response to COVID-19, we worked with NSW Police Prosecutions to change the way in which charge papers in fresh custody matters were delivered by police to defence lawyers, to ensure we had access to client papers while providing assistance remotely in first appearance matters. While this change was implemented to meet our operational needs during the short-term bail hub court model, the centralised provision of client papers is one aspect we will continue to use.

The early receipt of papers means that we can conference with clients who have been refused police bail, obtain instructions on the charges, and appear for them in court to apply for bail as quickly as possible. Physical copies of client papers will remain available at court.

Story iconDefence of mental illness

R v M (unreported)

A Legal Aid NSW Solicitor Advocate appeared in a trial for a client charged with recklessly wounding his father, a charge which carries a maximum of seven years’ jail.  At the time of the conduct giving rise to the charge, our client, a middle-aged man, was living on a property with his parents in remote NSW. His parents provided statements to the police indicating that he had been behaving aggressively and erratically at the relevant time and that this conduct had resulted in significant conflict between our client and the complainant, his father. This conflict escalated to the point where our client physically attacked his father and caused him serious injury.

Our client had previously faced charges in the Local Court which were diverted under the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990 (NSW). Our advocate obtained historic and updated psychiatric material to support the defence of not guilty by reason of mental illness. Such defence carries the inherent risk of an accused being detained indefinitely as a forensic patient, sometimes for a significantly longer time than any sentence at law would be. Fortunately, however, our client had entered full-time residential rehabilitation pending his trial. The psychiatrist retained by the defence ultimately concluded that the defence of not guilty by reason of mental illness was available. The Crown expert agreed, and the trial proceeded on that joint position. Fortunately for the client, his successful completion of 12 months of rehabilitation and an opinion from the defence expert that he was not a serious risk to himself or any member of the public, resulted in his release to the community.

Major criminal law events in 2019

Our criminal law conference and the annual criminal law dinner were held in the first week of August 2019. It was the most well-attended criminal law conference to date with 590 attendees. For the first time we used a mobile app to enable easy access for booking tickets, conference papers and information about the speakers. An impressive variety of speakers presented on topics ranging from practical advocacy to unconscious bias, and the broader political context in which the criminal justice system and criminal lawyers operate. The keynote speech was delivered by Kerry O’Brien which, together with his subsequent interview with Bret Walker SC, was both inspiring and thought-provoking.

Introducing our Digital Learning Series

Legal Aid NSW plays an important role in the delivery of continuing professional development (CPD) to both in-house and private criminal lawyers. With the cancellation of the annual criminal law conference in 2020 due to the pandemic, CPD has instead been delivered via our Digital Learning Series.

The series provides remote learning modules through a variety of platforms including podcasts, live webinars, and recorded video presentations with complementary resources. Topics covered include prosecutorial disclosure, appearing in court during the pandemic, social media evidence, and the role of neuropsychologists in criminal law matters.

Automated processes for allocation of private duty work

We commenced design on a new work offer system for allocating criminal law duty work and urgent casework to private practitioners called the Back Up Duty Scheme Allocation System (BUDSAS). It will automate the process for offering Back Up Duty Scheme (BUDS) work to private practitioners and will replace existing manual processes, saving our staff time and creating a more efficient, transparent system for all stakeholders. BUDSAS will be introduced in August 2020.

Criminal Law Conference

Our biggest criminal law conference was held in August 2019. Pictured left are Human Rights Commissioner Rosalind Croucher AM, Legal Aid NSW Criminal Law Director Annmarie Lumsden and barrister Kate Eastman SC at the 2019 Criminal Law Conference. Pictured right are Legal Aid NSW lawyer Emma Manea and journalist Kerry O'Brien, who delivered the keynote speech at the conference.

Story iconRecognising the impact of intellectual disability on moral culpability

R v LR (name redacted) (Unreported, NSWDC, May 29, 2020, Judge Culver)

The Legal Aid NSW Commonwealth Crime Unit acted on behalf of an intellectually disabled, Canadian indigenous woman who had suffered extreme social deprivation. Following her arrest at Sydney International Airport with 7.5723 kg of cocaine in her suitcases, she was convicted of importing a commercial quantity of cocaine – a charge which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. She was a single mother of three young children, one of whom had a developmental delay. As a result of her incarceration, the children were placed with a relative, whom they had not previously known, in a remote island community. Two of the children were in counselling and one child was at risk of being placed with a foster carer, which would have meant separation from his siblings and dislocation from his indigenous community.

At the sentencing hearing, we argued for a significant reduction in our client’s sentence due to her indigeneity, her intellectual disability and the hardship to third parties (her children) that a lengthy jail term would bring. We presented a significant amount of evidence from Canada regarding her background and the plight of her children.

Judge Culver remarked that this was one of the most compelling cases she had seen and that the extraordinary subjective features of our client’s case distinguished it from the typical commercial quantity importation case. The court found that there was a causal connection between our client’s intellectual disability and her moral culpability. Her naivety and vulnerability to the organisers of the crime were further confirmed by her volunteering information to authorities which was against her own interests. The court was of the view that our client’s experience in custody was more onerous due to her mental health and dislocation from her children. The court considered that a significant reduction in the non-parole period from the overall term was appropriate and imposed a term of imprisonment of four years, with a non-parole period of 18 months.

Year ahead iconThe year ahead

  • We will continue to adapt to provide effective and continuous criminal law services to our clients, while balancing the safety of staff and other court users. This will be achieved by working closely with our key criminal justice agency partners, including the heads of jurisdiction, courts administration, NSW Police, the private profession, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
  • We will pilot ways to triage advice at court listing days by placing a registration desk staffed by a duty lawyer at the front of the court. This system aims to reduce spontaneous client contact, improve the client experience, reduce delays and increase efficiency.
  • We will develop and use a simplified Crime Resource Allocation Model to inform resource allocation decisions.
  • We will explore opportunities to provide advice and representation to prisoners at the new Clarence Correctional Centre in Grafton.

Family law

Legal Aid NSW is home to the largest family law practice in Australia. It provides legal information, advice and minor assistance, extended legal assistance, early resolution assistance, duty services, dispute resolution and case representation in family law matters. Its work includes child support, care and protection, and domestic violence-related matters. These services are available at our offices and at 108 outreach locations.

Fact file
Total staff:302
Total expenditure on family law services:$84.8M
Proportion of overall expenditure on family law services:22.8%

New models of service delivery

Legal Aid NSW implemented a new model for the delivery of in-house advocate services including developing a model where an advocate becomes involved earlier in a matter. This led to earlier settlement in several matters, narrowing issues, and increasing the confidence of junior solicitors leading up to trial.

We expanded our multidisciplinary service models of legal service delivery for families experiencing domestic and family violence by embedding financial counsellors and full-time men’s support workers in our domestic violence services.

We implemented and commenced the administration of the Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties Scheme and we developed a lawyer-assisted mediation program for small asset pool property disputes which protects those impacted by domestic and family violence.

Changes to processes and procedures

We made it easier for our clients to apply for legal aid services. Parents in care and protection matters were exempted from the means test and we introduced paralegals into the service delivery model who assist by contacting clients and helping them to complete their legal aid applications.

We saw an increased reliance on telephone mediation and other technological means of conducting family dispute resolutions. This meant working with mediators to ensure home offices were equipped to support additional telephone mediation needs and trialling virtual mediations using a video conferencing platform.

Similarly, our lawyers commenced conducting litigation practices electronically, for example, taking instructions over the phone, preparing and collating documents electronically, and appearing in court by telephone and audio-visual link.

Story iconGiving children a voice in child protection cases

Our lawyer was appointed by the Children’s Court of NSW to act as the independent legal representative for a child who had been taken from her mother at birth.

Children’s legal representatives have a special role in child protection cases and help to ensure that children’s voices are heard during proceedings. An independent legal representative does not act for parents, carers or caseworkers, but instead helps advocate for the best interests of young children.

In this case, the child’s mother has an intellectual disability, and the caseworkers who were assigned to the child believed the child’s grandmother was too old to be able to help the mother take care of her.

Our lawyer was concerned that the caseworkers were not following court orders, which required that the child be allowed to spend time with her mother, with supervision. Our lawyer was also concerned that the caseworkers were not keeping adequate records about the child’s care.

After our lawyer took steps to ensure all the relevant information was available to the court, the court agreed to allow the child to return to live with her mother and grandmother, who now have shared responsibility for her. Following the finding, the child transitioned from out of home care placement, back to the home of her mother and maternal grandmother.

Working together in care and protection

We have worked closely with Victoria Legal Aid to enhance the delivery of care and protection services in the Far West and Wentworth/Dareton area.

Some other initiatives included:

  • A pro-bono partnership between Legal Aid NSW’s Domestic Violence Unit and Broun Abrahams Burreket for specialised and urgent interim property relief for victims of domestic violence.
  • A referral pathway with Western Sydney Community Legal Centre.
  • A legal services partnership was formed with the South West Sydney Legal Centre to meet every two months to share information.
  • Establishing a Community of Practice for practitioners who undertake secure accommodation order matters to ensure good outcomes for children.
  • We convened child support liaison meetings attended by representatives from Services Australia’s Child Support program and lawyers from Legal Aid NSW and community legal services. We also worked closely with Centrelink due to the interaction between child support and the family tax benefit.
  • As part of our involvement in the Greater Sydney Family Law Pathways Network, representatives from Legal Aid NSW actively assisted in the writing and producing of the Our Kids film which tells the story of the way that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families participate in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families list in the Federal Circuit Court.
  • We played a role in the development and launch of the Parent Peer Support Project run out of the Broadmeadow Children’s Court. This program provided support to particularly vulnerable parents to assist them with petitioning for their children to be restored to their care.
  • The family litigation team at Legal Aid NSW’s Newcastle office collaborated with the civil lawyers to commence a fortnightly advice clinic at the Tomaree Neighbourhood Centre in Nelson Bay.

Implementation and administration of the cross-examination scheme in family law courts

In 2019 the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) was amended to include section 102NA which provides for direct cross-examination to be banned in certain circumstances. The Act aims to protect victims of family violence by requiring that cross-examination must be conducted by a legal representative, either a privately retained lawyer or one funded through this scheme.

Legal Aid NSW administers the scheme in NSW on behalf of the Commonwealth Government. We commenced funding the representation of eligible parties for hearings from September 2019. This year we provided funding for the representation of 142 parties impacted by the scheme.

Implementation of the Commonwealth Small Property Mediation Pilot

We commenced the small property mediation pilot in February 2020, created to support separating couples who may not otherwise qualify for legal aid to go through mediation to divide property worth up to $500,000 (or claim up to $250,000).

Legal aid commissions around Australia were funded to pursue these property mediation pilots, as they are among a series of measures included in the Commonwealth Government’s Women’s Economic Security Package that aim to support women’s economic independence.

Adoption mediations

We developed and trialled a post-filing adoption mediation model with good results. A new model is being developed in consultation with the Department of Communities and Justice in pre-filing matters to attempt to resolve any outstanding disputes prior to a court application being made.

Development of a best practice guide

We developed a best practice guide for the representation of children in care and protection proceedings. The guide is essential reading for all lawyers undertaking child representation work in the care and protection jurisdiction. It will be launched in 2020–2021.

Formation of a Property Network Group

The Property Network Group was formed as a means of bringing together family law solicitors with experience in conducting property matters from across the state. The Property Network Group meetings are a forum for discussion and a means to generate ideas in relation to issues, such as proposed training for staff on changes to Legal Aid NSW policies relating to property and the new small property mediation pilot.

Conferences and continuing professional development in 2019–2020

We held an in-house family law conference for Legal Aid NSW staff in August 2019, which was attended by 178 staff.

We also held our annual care and protection conference in August 2019, which was attended by 195 in-house staff and 128 panel lawyers working in care and protection.

In September 2019, we engaged the Australian Advocacy Institute to deliver specialised training for child representatives on developing case theory. This high-level training was delivered to 12 in-house staff and six of our panel lawyers.

We have provided monthly webinars on topics relevant to family lawyers.

Training and accrediting Independent Children’s Lawyers

Legal Aid NSW manages the national Independent Children’s Lawyer (ICL) website on behalf of National Legal Aid. Through this website, all Australian legal practitioners seeking to represent children in the family law jurisdiction must register and complete an online training program.

Ninety-six lawyers from across Australia completed the online program with 45 of those lawyers being from NSW

Face-to-face workshop training events were attended by 52 participants in Sydney and 38 in Brisbane.

We delivered Phase 3 Nuts and Bolts training for ICLs new to the Legal Aid NSW panel. This training helps new ICLs understand the practicalities of starting ICL work, providing them with access to current resources and updating them on relevant practices and processes. This training was adapted to an online program and delivered via Microsoft Teams in May 2020. It was attended by 56 NSW lawyers and resulted in the appointment of 27 new ICLs on the NSW panel and 27 new in-house ICLs.

Streamlining our processes

The Board approved changes to allow parents in new care and protection matters to be exempt from the means test during COVID-19 to ensure highly vulnerable clients continued to be serviced. This change streamlined the application process for clients in care and protection matters and reduce the amount of documentation and paperwork required.

We are working on a new process for family dispute resolution matters which will streamline the process of obtaining completed checklists and other information from the client’s solicitor. The aim of the change is to implement efficiencies in scheduling mediations.

Story iconOur casework clarifies an important area of adoption law

Hackett (a pseudonym) v Secretary, Department of Communities and Justice [2020] NSWCA 83

Belinda* had been taken into care as a baby. In 2018, the Secretary of the NSW Department of Communities and Justice began proceedings in the NSW Supreme Court to allow Belinda to be adopted by her carer. Throughout these proceedings, both the Department of Communities and Justice and Belinda’s biological father, Hackett*, agreed that she was an “Aboriginal child” under the meaning included in the Adoption Act 2000 (NSW).

Under the Act, a court must consider the Aboriginal child placement principles set out in the legislation – and it must not make an adoption order unless it is satisfied that those principles have been properly applied.

Before the court delivered its decision about Belinda’s adoption, judgment was delivered in another case, Fischer v Thompson (Anonymised) [2019] NSWSC 773, which held that before a child can be considered an Aboriginal child under the Adoption Act, it must be shown that an ancestor of the child satisfied the so-called “three-limb” test of Aboriginality.

Under that test, a person is considered Aboriginal only if they can show they are of Aboriginal descent, they identify as Aboriginal, and they are accepted as Aboriginal by their community.

In light of Fischer, the NSW Supreme Court accepted an argument that Belinda was not an Aboriginal child under the meaning of the Act and made orders allowing Belinda’s adoption to go ahead without first considering the Aboriginal child placement principles.

Hackett, represented by Legal Aid NSW, appealed against these orders, arguing that the interpretation of “Aboriginal child” in Fischer was incorrect. The NSW Court of Appeal unanimously agreed.

Its decision clarifies that where the evidence shows that a child is descended from people who lived in Australia before British colonisation, a court may treat the child as an “Aboriginal child” for the purposes of the Adoption Act. The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 (NSW) contains an identical definition of Aboriginal child, so this decision will have important consequences for child protection casework practices.

The Court of Appeal also emphasised the importance of considering a broad range of material when determining a child’s ancestry.

* Court-assigned pseudonyms

Story iconTailoring our services to meet families’ unique needs

Barbara* looks after her granddaughter Nadine*, who has complex, lifelong medical needs that require ongoing specialist care.

Nadine’s mother Leila* is Aboriginal, and her family’s past experiences had left her reluctant to formalise the care arrangements for Nadine. When Barbara came to us for help, she was struggling to navigate Nadine’s educational and healthcare needs because of the absence of any formal family law or guardianship orders. As a pensioner, she was also struggling to provide for Nadine. Formalising Nadine’s care arrangements would entitle Barbara to carer payments and would help her better meet Nadine’s needs.

Nadine’s parents were both hesitant to participate in mediation or to engage with the legal system generally. Our staff worked with the family, and with the help of one of Leila’s trusted older relatives, we prepared an application for consent orders that would allow Nadine’s care arrangements to be formalised in the family law courts.

We worked to ensure that the role and identity of Nadine’s parents – and especially Leila – were properly acknowledged and that all members of the family felt supported and respected throughout this process.

* Not their real names

Year ahead iconThe year ahead

  • Clarify our priority client guidelines and trial a multi-disciplinary team-based approach to the provision of casework services to high-priority clients.
  • Develop a suite of high-quality training resources for legal practitioners seeking to enter family law specialist panels including domestic and family violence and child representation in care and protection cases.
  • Continue to promote and develop the effectiveness of the Commonwealth’s small property mediation pilot in order to meet the referral and mediation targets.
  • Implement the familyproperty.com software program along with the use of videoconferencing for mediations.
  • Collaborate with other teams to develop and implement the next phase of the Client and Case Management System (CCMS) for family dispute resolution lawyers, including a transition from the current mediator booking system into a new, integrated system.

Family Law Conference

2019 Legal Aid NSW Family Law Conference. Left to right: Family Law Director Kylie Beckhouse, Gosford Solicitor in Charge Gabrielle Cantrall, Deputy CEO Monique Hitter, Director CCMS Susannah O’Reilly, and Director Client Service Jane Cipants.

Civil law

Ours is the largest publicly funded civil law practice in Australia and the work of our civil lawyers is wide-ranging. We practise in diverse areas of law including housing, human rights, social security, consumer protection, disaster recovery and insurance, employment, immigration, NDIS, mental health, fines, coronial inquests, and the sexual assault communications privilege. The civil law practice includes dedicated services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, children, refugees, prisoners, and older people experiencing elder abuse.

We provide civil law advice in our offices and at 181 outreach locations. We also provide duty services at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, the Mental Health Review Tribunal, and the Youth Koori Court.

Fact file
Total staff:277
Total expenditure on civil law services:$50.1M
Proportion of overall expenditure on civil law services:13.5%

Disaster Response Legal Service

For over a decade, we have provided legal help to communities affected by disasters. The 2019–2020 bushfire season was the worst on record. In response, we rapidly mobilised our Disaster Response Legal Service (DRLS) and deployed 65 civil lawyers to frontline recovery efforts. Our staff provided over 1,000 legal services and presented information sessions to more than 2,500 people at community recovery meetings. Read more about the work of the DRLS at ‘Our response to the bushfires’.

Story iconElder Abuse Service provides tailored support during crisis

Alice* was a 73-year-old who had helped her granddaughter, Jess*, over the years by letting her stay in her home. Jess had struggled with mental health and employment issues and did not contribute financially. When Jess moved out, COVID-19 struck and she lost her job. Alice let Jess back into her home knowing Jess had nowhere else to go. Jess’s behaviour quickly deteriorated, and she became verbally abusive, with Alice locking herself in the bedroom to stay safe.

The social worker from our Elder Abuse Service provided ongoing support to Alice, helping her to develop a safety plan, and boundaries for the granddaughter’s behaviour. Alice was then able to work with our lawyer to give formal notice to the granddaughter and draw up a behavioural “contract”. This prompted different discussions between Alice and Jess, with Jess voluntarily agreeing to leave the house.

* Not their real names

Establishment of the Elder Abuse Service

A specialist Elder Abuse Service (EAS) was established in our Gosford office, to support older people on the Central Coast who are at risk of, or who are experiencing, elder abuse, with a particular focus on supporting older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.

The EAS adopts a multidisciplinary service model that includes generalist lawyers and a social worker. Referrals are accepted from local stakeholders in the health and community sectors.

Older people face significant challenges in calling out the behaviour of their family members, especially where the older person is dependent on their abuser.

Elder abuse reported to the EAS included 75 percent financial abuse, 52 percent emotional abuse, 40 percent more than one type of abuse and 40 percent reported that they were experiencing a risk to stable housing.

National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) expansion and advocacy

We provided legal representation to over 130 clients with National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) cases before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and expanded service delivery by placing specialist NDIS solicitors in our Penrith and Coffs Harbour offices.

Our advocacy assisted clients to gain access to the NDIS, to increase the level of their NDIS funding and supports, and to help clarify the legislation and policy governing the NDIS.

Story iconAccessing the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

We successfully represented a client at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to obtain access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in the matter of MHZQ v the National Disability Insurance [2017] AATA 810.

The Tribunal decided that the client’s borderline personality disorder qualified as a disability, concluding that our client had a permanent psychiatric impairment with a substantial reduction in her functional capacity, resulting in her limited social and economic participation. Our client’s psychiatric condition was found to be sufficient for her to have access to the scheme.

Implementing recommendations from specialist team evaluations

1. Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities

We implemented a number of community-based recommendations following the evaluation of this service.

This included developing generalist lawyer capabilities, strengthening referral pathways, and collaborating with teams throughout Legal Aid NSW and externally.

2. Children’s Civil Law Service

We implemented recommendations from the evaluation of this service, which included reviewing and amending its objectives and eligibility criteria, and confirming existing referral partnerships with the Legal Aid NSW Children’s Legal Service, the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT, and Shopfront Youth Legal Centre.

Guidelines and principles have also been developed on how to exit young people from the service.

3. Refugee Service

The Refugee Service was made permanent in 2019 following an external evaluation that found the service to be highly valued by refugee clients and community partners.

Comprising three civil lawyers and one family lawyer, the Refugee Service fills a critical gap in legal support for newly-arrived refugees. The service provides meaningful, culturally appropriate and holistic support to clients from many countries around the world, including Tibet, Eritrea, Syria, Myanmar, Iraq, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Refugee Service has delivered over 1,200 community legal education sessions to settlement workers and members of refugee communities on a range of topics, including housing, immigration, domestic violence, social security, discrimination and general family law.

Increased in-house representation in Sexual Assault Communications Privilege Service matters

We employed two additional solicitors in our Sexual Assault Communications Privilege Service, allowing us to significantly increase our in-house representation of clients. The proportion of clients with in-house representation increased from 10 percent in 2017–2018 to around 65 percent this year due to these additional resources.

Premier’s Award for Tackling Longstanding Social Challenges in 2019

The Work and Development Order (WDO) scheme received a Premier’s Award in 2019 for Tackling Longstanding Social Challenges.

The award recognised the successful collaboration between Legal Aid NSW, Revenue NSW and the Department of Communities and Justice, to create better social outcomes for the most vulnerable people in our community.

Over 2,300 WDO sponsors across NSW provide activities in government, community and health settings to help vulnerable people clear unpaid fines through activities such as education, counselling, volunteering, and health treatment.

Since the program commenced, more than 164,503 WDOs have been approved, clearing over $213 million in fines debt and diverting vulnerable people from the fines enforcement system.

Superannuation Insurance Referral Project

Clients with chronic health conditions who are unable to work are often unaware of insurance policies attached to their superannuation funds. These policies can include significant financial benefits for the client.

We piloted the superannuation insurance referral project with two private firms to identify and refer eligible clients to obtain expert legal assistance to access these benefits.

We referred over 100 clients to Maurice Blackburn and Berrill & Watson. These included clients impacted by the bushfires, prisoners, clients experiencing homelessness, and clients experiencing mental health issues.

Responding to the civil law needs of prisoners in High Intensity Program Units (HIPUs)

HIPUs provide intensive therapeutic programs to prisoners serving short sentences (six months or less) who are considered at high risk of reoffending. The aim is to address factors that contribute to reoffending and reimprisonment including homelessness, unemployment, debt and family breakdown. Ten HIPUs have been established across seven prisons in NSW where regional civil lawyers provide outreach services and community legal education.

Health conditions and insurance report

We published a report, What’s the Risk? Access to insurance for people living with health conditions, that surveyed 281 people with health conditions and experience with insurance to better understand the challenges associated with accessing general and life insurance products.

The report found that two-thirds of people surveyed, reported difficulties obtaining insurance and called for a review of all insurance policies that exclude coverage for health conditions to ensure they comply with the law.

Outstanding achievements by civil law staff

Civil lawyer Merinda Dutton, a Gumbaynggirr Barkindji woman, was named the National Indigenous Legal Professional of the Year in 2019 and Refugee Service Community Engagement Officer, Nohara Odicho, received a Humanitarian Award in 2019. These prestigious awards recognise the skill, dedication and commitment to excellence of our staff. See Professional and personal achievements for more information about these achievements.

Moving professional development online

We launched a series of fortnightly Civil Brush-Up webinars featuring expert panellists on a range of topics related to COVID-19 and other areas of professional development, including the new Public Health Orders, changes to Centrelink, and the jurisdiction of the Mental Health Review Tribunal.

In the final three months of 2019–2020, we delivered 12 webinars to staff with expert speakers, and over 80 staff members attended each webinar to obtain their CPD points. The webinars were particularly suited to our regional staff members.

Year ahead iconThe year ahead

  • We will develop a framework for multidisciplinary practice in partnership with our family law colleagues.
  • We will expand the generalist lawyer model to the Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities, Refugee Service and outreach.
  • We will implement the recommendations from the evaluations of our specialist services.
  • We will pilot virtual outreach in two locations.
  • We will develop and implement new Extended Legal Assistance (ELA) business rules.
  • We will deliver trauma-informed practice training.