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Annual Report 2021 - 2022

Providing services to those who need them the most

To ensure access to justice for those most in need, we consistently review and amend our policies.

Our eligibility policies help us ensure that our limited resources are directed to those most in need. This year, we made changes to our policies and our services in response to emerging demand in certain areas of law.

Early Resolution Assistance

We expanded the types of matters that can be administered as Early Resolution Assistance (ERA). ERA uses a simplified application process – it requires less information from the applicant, and there is no paper application form. It has a simplified means and merit test, streamlining application and administration processes. This makes it easy for lawyers to apply and for clients to access.

Early intervention mediation for family law disputes

In January 2022 we changed the way early intervention mediation is administered in family law matters. Early intervention mediation helps clients to settle family law disputes early, avoiding costly, time-consuming and traumatising court proceedings. Instead of a grant of legal aid, it is now an ERA service, a change which has streamlined the application and grants administration process making it easier for lawyers and clients alike.

Early intervention for pre-filing adoption

Legal Aid NSW and the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) began a pilot to formalise mediation processes for interested parties at the pre-filing stage of adoption in July 2021. The new process allows interested parties to engage with DCJ or the authorised adoption service and allows us to assist birth parents and other relatives of the child to contribute to the development of the adoption plan and discuss and resolve issues in dispute early in the adoption process.

This supported involvement is particularly important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who want to ensure the adoption plan reflects the child’s connection to their kinship systems, including but not limited to their shared cultural, tribal and community connections.

One Merit Test

We simplified our eligibility policies in January 2022 by applying a single merit test to all applications for criminal, civil and family law matters that are merit tested. Previously, Commonwealth family law matters applied a different test. This change has improved the consistency and transparency of decisions around merit for applications for legal aid.

Matters exempted from the Means Test

We exempted certain kinds of ERA matters from the means test to make the grants application process quicker and easier to ensure some of our most disadvantaged clients can access essential legal services when they need them.

Exempted matters include guardianship and mental health matters where the client is the subject of the proceedings, parents in primary care and protection proceedings, and some prisoners’ legal matters. The people who are affected by these legal matters are among our most disadvantaged clients. They face the biggest challenges accessing the financial information required for a grant of legal aid because of complex life circumstances surrounding their legal problem and/or because they are in prison or another detention facility. By exempting these matters from the Legal Aid NSW Means Test, we have removed this barrier to accessing legal services.

Correcting errors on the NSW Child Protection Register

We expanded our extended legal assistance service to provide assistance to people seeking to correct errors in their registration status on the NSW Child Protection Register.

Evidence showed that incorrect decisions about a person’s inclusion and the length of a person’s reporting period had left errors in the register, and that some of our most vulnerable clients were incorrectly included on the register.

Errors on the NSW Child Protection Register can have an enormous impact on a person’s life, impacting where they live and work, and in some cases, leading to wrongful imprisonment. Being able to assist in these matters has improved the lives of some of our most vulnerable clients.

High-risk offender matters

In 2021–2022 we introduced a new fee scale for state and Commonwealth high-risk offender matters. Along with a fit-for-purpose grants template, this has improved the efficiency of the grants administration process for these matters. Legal aid is also now available for people who are subject to extended supervision orders made under Commonwealth high risk terrorism legislation.

Year ahead iconThe year ahead

  • We will continue to simplify the grants application and administration process.
  • We will implement the approved recommendations from the means test review.
  • We will continue to ensure our eligibility policies target disadvantaged people.