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Annual Report 2019 - 2020

Meeting the needs of diverse clients

Many of our services are targeted to the most vulnerable people in our community.

Fact file
Proportion of grants delivered to clients born in non-English speaking countries: 9.9%
Amount spent on interpreters and translators: $1,048,893
Percentage of our community legal education sessions that were presented to multicultural audiences 30.5%
Number of languages other than English spoken by private lawyers on our panels: 54

The Legal Aid NSW Diversity and Inclusion Plan 2020–2021 was approved by the Legal Aid NSW Board in February 2020. It is an inclusive plan that has two main objectives: achieving a diverse and inclusive workforce (see Workforce Diversity and Equity) and providing services that recognise and respond to the legal and support needs of diverse clients. Our diverse clients cover a broad range of groups including people with disability, people from culturally diverse communities, and people from LGBTIQ communities.

Guided by the plan, this year we:

  • provided targeted programs and community events working with clients from diverse communities, and
  • undertook a review of accessibility resources available across all our offices.

Targeted programs fill the gaps

Legal Aid NSW provided a number of targeted programs working with clients from diverse communities, including:

  • our Refugee Service provided legal education and assistance to clients on refugee or humanitarian visas, and
  • our Immigration Service provided advice to clients on immigration issues, including bringing family members to Australia and the process of seeking asylum for those fleeing persecution.

Raising awareness of our services with clients from diverse communities

Legal Aid NSW participated in community events and festivals such as Refugee Week, where we provided information and raised awareness of our services.

We delivered the following community legal education:

  • Settlement Services International orientation training sessions
  • Let’s talk: Australian law for new arrivals workshops, and
  • Your rights at work: Employment law for new arrivals sessions.

We also delivered community legal education in targeted areas in regional NSW where refugee clients have settled.

Embarking on evidence-driven planning

Legal Aid NSW undertook a comprehensive review of the extent to which clients from non-English speaking backgrounds are accessing legal services through panel lawyers. Nine recommendations will be delivered under the Diversity and Inclusion Plan 2020–2021.

Aligning our geographic coverage of NSW

To make sure we deliver services in the areas our clients live, we consulted with Community Legal Centres NSW and the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT through a NSW Legal Assistance Forum collaborative service planning working group.

Participants in this working group agreed on 20 geographic catchments for collaborative service planning across regional and metropolitan areas in NSW. We will also use these catchments for internal service planning activities.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients

Increasing our services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients

We have made improving services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients one of our major strategic priorities, aiming to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients we serve and ensure they get the best service possible. This year we launched our new Aboriginal Client Services Strategy.

The percentage of services provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has increased every year for the last five years. In 2019–2020, 18.3 percent of all casework services were delivered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, compared with 15.7 percent for combined case and in-house duty services the previous year.

Launching new standards for representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients

This year, Legal Aid NSW launched its Best practice standards for representing Aboriginal clients to provide guidance to lawyers on the level of knowledge and skills they need to provide effective legal representation for their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients, including:

  • General standards that apply to practitioners covering cultural, community, historical and policy issues, kinship structures, and unconscious bias.
  • Criminal law factors including overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, police powers and limitations, bail applications, and sentencing.
  • Family law factors including care and protection proceedings, domestic and family violence, family law court proceedings, and interaction with the Department of Communities and Justice.
  • Civil law factors including service delivery models, common civil law problems facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme, housing issues, and community legal education.

Best practice standards

The launch of the Best practice standards for representing Aboriginal clients is intended to increase the knowledge and skills of lawyers to provide effective representation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.

Youth Koori Court youth caseworker

We engaged an Aboriginal-identified youth caseworker in our Children’s Civil Law Service to support clients in the Youth Koori Court with a range of non-legal needs, including housing, drug and alcohol dependence, mental health, and support with culture and identity.

Story iconMultidisciplinary practice supports civil work

When Jessie* first started at the Youth Koori Court, she was transient and her civil lawyer from the Legal Aid NSW Children’s Civil Law Service was having trouble keeping in touch. The Aboriginal youth caseworker in the Children’s Civil Law Service commenced working with Jessie as well. The youth caseworker spoke with Jessie about family, country and kinship, and also advocated for her with government services. Now Jessie is seeing an Aboriginal counsellor and sticking to her other appointments.

The caseworker says: “I truly believe that young people having a worker who can relate to them in a culturally safe way is breaking down barriers of systems that fail them in their lives. It gives them the hope and self-empowerment to achieve outcomes in their way”.

* Not her real name

Expanded outreach to Aboriginal communities

1. Newcastle/Ungooroo Aboriginal Corporation

Our Newcastle team developed a health justice partnership with the Ungooroo general practice and health service to provide a fortnightly legal advice service for the local Aboriginal community in Muswellbrook.

We collaborated with the Wanaruah Local Aboriginal Land Council, the Hunter Community Legal Centre, the Cooperative Legal Service Delivery Program, and Muswellbrook and Upper Hunter Shire Councils’ interagency meetings to provide referral pathways for the service.

2. Wagga/Narrandera

Our civil lawyers in the Riverina-Murray region provided outreach to Aboriginal clients at the Narrandera courthouse on monthly list days to address unmet legal needs in the community.

We also helped members of the community with their fines – the average fine debt for people in Narrandera being $2,832, compared to the NSW average of $1,830.

Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme

Our civil lawyers continued to secure access to the NSW Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme for Stolen Generations survivors, having assisted 315 clients with claims as at June 30, 2020.

Our advocacy led to the reassessment of previously rejected claims, resulting in at least $6,642,000 of reparations payments made to members of the Stolen Generations.

We also issued proceedings in the Supreme Court on behalf of Stolen Generations survivors seeking judicial review of adverse decisions.

Funeral insurance

The Civil Law Service for Aboriginal Communities and consumer law team worked together to address systemic issues in the funeral insurance industry.

We currently represent 38 clients in matters lodged with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) involving funeral insurance disputes and continue to report misconduct and systemic issues to regulators.

New resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

We developed new resources to engage with regional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to
discuss common civil law problems they might experience.

SuperCuz

1. Let’s yarn with SuperCuz

To make the resources engaging and fun, the Community Legal Education branch revived SuperCuz, a popular cartoon character that we have previously featured. SuperCuz is a superhero who helps people understand legal issues and what they can do about them.

2. Me and My Money Tree

In the spirit of storytelling and interactive delivery, we designed a portable resource called Me and My Money Tree that uses the metaphor of a tree to explore the different types of financial responsibilities that a person might have.

Coronial services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families

Legal Aid NSW’s Coronial Inquest Unit collaborated with the Law and Justice Foundation to produce a report investigating how coronial services can be improved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in NSW. The report will identify barriers that exist for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families when participating in the coronial system, and what culturally sensitive practices and strategies can overcome those challenges.

Cultural competency sessions help lawyers deliver culturally safe services

Our Aboriginal Cultural Competency Program is designed to equip practitioners with the skills and knowledge they need to better represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.

This year we coordinated training for Legal Aid NSW staff, private practitioners and key partners like the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) in delivering services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the state. This included face-to-face workshops and webinars. We delivered sessions on cultural safety in the workplace, kinship and trauma-informed practice, Aboriginal cultural awareness training, and training on our new Best practice standards for representing Aboriginal clients.

Some examples of these cultural competency training sessions included:

  • Implementing our locally-oriented Aboriginal cultural awareness program in regional areas including Coffs Harbour and Wagga Wagga.
  • Training for approximately 60 in-house and private criminal lawyers at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence. The session gave participants a powerful and often confronting insight into intergenerational trauma suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people due to past child welfare laws, policies and practices, and aims to help lawyers provide more effective services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.
  • Training for senior civil law managers on cultural safety in the workplace.
  • Foundational cultural competency training as part of corporate induction for new starters.

Year ahead iconThe year ahead

  • We will deliver our objectives under the Legal Aid NSW Diversity and Inclusion Plan 2020–2021.
  • We will undertake a range of initiatives to deliver services that are responsive to the needs of diverse clients, such as:
    • better matching clients with disability with panel lawyers who have relevant skills and experience
    • improving training on working with interpreters and translators, and
    • developing and implementing initiatives to respond to the findings of the 2019 Client Satisfaction Survey.
  • We will continue to increase the services provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients and communities.

Welcome to Redfern

Criminal law staff participated in a walking tour of Redfern to hear more about the rich social history of what has been described by prominent community figure Aunty Donna Ingram as Australia’s original black capital.