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Annual Report 2019 - 2020

We turned 40

40th anniversary

Legal Aid NSW’s 40th celebrations. Brian Sandland, Merinda Dutton, Katie Kelso, Bev Lazarou, and Teresa O’Sullivan. Top right: NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman SC.

The provision of legal aid for disadvantaged people in our state enjoys a long history.

Legal Aid NSW was founded in 1979 as the Legal Services Commission, which focused on providing criminal law advice and representation to disadvantaged people. It joined with the Australian Legal Aid Office to form the Legal Aid Commission of NSW, established under the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979 (NSW) as an independent statutory body with a mandate to provide effective, efficient and economical legal services that are available and accessible to disadvantaged people in NSW.

From 1979 to 2019, Legal Aid NSW and the people who have worked here have made an incredible contribution to the administration of justice and the lives of the most vulnerable people in NSW. We play a crucial role in creating a fair and accessible justice system for every member of the NSW community.

Over the past 40 years we have grown to an organisation with 25 offices across NSW and more than 1,300 staff providing criminal, family and civil law assistance, as well as non-legal services, particularly in relation to domestic and family violence. We have made a profound difference in the lives of many people.

Today, Legal Aid NSW is recognised as a leader in legal excellence operating one of the largest law practices in Australia.

At the Legal Aid NSW 40th anniversary celebration held in November 2019, attended by staff, alumni and our justice sector partners, the NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman SC announced a significant funding boost of $88 million over four years to support an increase in fees paid to private lawyers who do legal aid work for us.

We welcomed the additional funding and recognised it as the single biggest injection of funds for private lawyers doing legal aid work in the 40-year history of Legal Aid NSW. This significant commitment to Legal Aid NSW will enable us to build greater partnerships with the private profession, ensuring our clients get the best legal service possible.

The funding has resulted in new fee scales that better reflect the time that private lawyers spend preparing cases and representing clients in legally aided matters. In addition, structural changes introduced progressively for pre-hearing work will allow lawyers to spend more time with their clients and preparing for cases, as well as promoting the timely finalisation of criminal matters.

The funding boost will secure the future of crucial legal services for the state’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities for the foreseeable future. The structural reforms started on January 1, 2020, and private lawyers’ fees will increase from July 1, 2020.

40th anniversary, Brendan Jones

Legal Aid NSW’s 40th celebrations. Legal Aid NSW CEO Brendan Thomas.