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Annual Report 2020 - 2021

Providing services to those who need them the most

To ensure access to justice for those most in need, we reviewed and amended our policies.

Our eligibility policies help us ensure that our limited resources are directed to areas of most legal need. We made changes to our policies in response to emerging demand in certain areas of law.

Improving access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

We reviewed our eligibility policies to identify gaps in policies that prevented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from accessing legal assistance.

We introduced a new guideline to assist decision-makers determine family law applications where a parent is in custody. The guideline is intended to recognise the higher incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and is aimed at ensuring children have cultural engagement with their parents.

We reviewed our policies to remove the means test for coronial inquest matters relating to the death of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person in custody. This change is intended to ensure family members are represented in these matters of important public interest.

We extended the matters for which legal aid is available under extended legal assistance to include the Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme and school exclusion matters, in recognition that school exclusions disproportionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

We expanded the range of Local Court criminal law matters for which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women will be eligible, including for traffic matters and defended hearings even where there is no risk of gaol. This policy change is intended to respond to the increasing rates of imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women (increase of
74 percent in the past six years).

Improving access to our services for people experiencing domestic or family violence

We introduced changes to our policies to improve access to our legal services for people experiencing domestic or family violence.

For victims of violent crime, we now provide extended legal assistance to help them apply for counselling and financial assistance through the Victims Rights and Support Act 2013 (NSW). The change means we can assist people who are often traumatised and face barriers in completing, obtaining and paying for documentation for their claims.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who are victims, we made changes to the Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) policy to ensure these women are represented in AVO proceedings whether they are applicants or defendants in those proceedings.

For victims of domestic and family violence in property proceedings, we implemented further amendments to the family law property policy to ensure people experiencing domestic and family violence can access legal representation in property settlement disputes.

Expansion of our extended legal assistance services

We expanded the matters conducted as extended legal assistance (ELA) by our in-house practice areas. The aim of ELA is to achieve early legal resolution for people with multiple legal problems or disadvantaged people who have legal problems in priority areas of law.

ELA now includes sexual assault communications privilege matters, migration matters, victims of domestic violence, victims of violent crime, coronial inquests, corrections to errors on the NSW Child Protection Register, Commonwealth parole matters, and veterans’ matters. We have also extended ELA to clients of the High Risk Offender Unit.

The changes recognise that early intervention can provide resolution of difficult legal issues without the need to go to court.

Legal aid now available for criminal contempt proceedings

We amended our criminal law eligibility policies to make legal aid available for representing clients charged with criminal contempt of court and at risk of going to gaol. This is a significant broadening of our criminal law eligibility policies.

The policy covers situations where there is merit in defending a charge, where a person is likely to be sentenced to a term of imprisonment, or where there is merit in a sentenced person having their sentence for contempt discharged. This policy is subject to a means test.

Review of our criminal law policies for children and young people

We reviewed our criminal law policies that apply to children and young people to ensure that our eligibility policies meet their needs. Gaps and opportunities for simplification were identified, which we will implement next year.

Means test review

Legal Aid NSW operates a suite of tests to assess eligibility for services. Essential to the assessment process is the means test and contributions policy. Together, these policies are critical in ensuring a sustainable legal aid system where resources are targeted to those most in need.

This year we undertook a review of the means test to:

  • review the income and asset thresholds to assess whether the benchmarks we are using are reliable and current
  • develop a methodology for regularly updating the thresholds, and
  • develop non-economic indicators that allow us to recognise the impact that non-economic personal circumstances can have on an applicant’s ability to pay private legal costs.

We created proposals that will be further developed and costed next year.

Training on eligibility policies

We delivered training on our eligibility policies to ensure we consistently direct clients to the right level and type of service. Training was delivered internally to the Grants Division and LawAccess NSW, and externally to members of the Legal Aid Review Committee and to private lawyers through the Lawyer Education Series.

Year ahead iconThe year ahead

  • We will implement the criminal law policy changes applying to children and young people.
  • We will work toward simplifying the grant application process for eligible clients.
  • We will implement recommendations arising from our means test review.
  • We will continue to ensure our eligibility policies are targeted at disadvantaged people.