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Annual Report 2021 - 2022

Chair's report

Craig Smith

I acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional owners and custodians on whose land we live and work.

On behalf of the Board of Legal Aid NSW it is my pleasure to introduce the 2021–2022 Annual Report. The report chronicles the outstanding services that Legal Aid NSW has provided in helping to ensure access to justice for the people of New South Wales. I thank the state and Commonwealth governments for the funding provided for this work. Legal Aid NSW strives to ensure that legal aid is provided in the most effective, efficient and economical manner.

The provision of excellent legal service relies on the passion and commitment of our staff to the cause of Legal Aid NSW and to our clients. In that regard we are ably assisted by private lawyers and community legal centres. The Board establishes and reviews the broad policies to ensure that the available resources are directed to those most in need. These policies include means tests and merit tests. Legal Aid NSW has been proactive in simplifying and speeding up the processes involved in determining grants of legal aid. The actions taken by the Board in this regard are published in this report.

2021–2022 was year four of our five-year strategic plan.  The implementation of that plan was led by Brendan Thomas. Brendan left Legal Aid NSW on 1 November 2021 to take up the role of Deputy Secretary at the Department of Communities and Justice responsible for transforming outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  Brendan is a proud Wiradjuri man, an outstanding innovative leader and was an exemplary CEO. Brendan achieved much during his four years as CEO and left Legal Aid NSW in great shape. The Board looks forward to working with Brendan in establishing Legal Aid NSW policies and strategies directed at Closing the Gap.

Legal Aid NSW is well served by its Executive team. Monique Hitter, Deputy CEO, has very capably acted as CEO since November 2021. In December 2021 Annmarie Lumsden, Director Criminal Law, took up an appointment as Director of Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission. Annmarie led our largest practice area and her outstanding contribution to Legal Aid NSW was very much appreciated by the Board. The appointment of four Legal Aid NSW solicitors as Magistrates this year also reflects the quality of our staff. The work Legal Aid NSW is undertaking in the area of leadership development, as described in this report, is important for succession planning at all levels.

The Board receives reports on work, health and safety issues and advice from the Audit and Risk Committee. The Board also considers regular reports on finances, organisational performance and strategic planning implementation. The Board appreciates the quality of the materials and advice provided.

Over the past five years, the percentage of our clients who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has risen from 14.2% to 21.3%. This increase is partly as a consequence of funding constraints at the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT). Also, Legal Aid NSW has been very proactive in improving services in civil and in family law services to First Nations peoples. Legal Aid NSW continues to be proactive in seeking to employ a workforce of 11% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Board welcomed the Legal Aid NSW Aboriginal Cultural Safety Framework that is committed to creating a culturally inclusive and diverse environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients and staff. I congratulate the Aboriginal Services Branch for their work in developing this framework.

In consultation with the Board, Legal Aid NSW has been proactive in social governance. Sexual harassment and unacceptable behaviour policies have been implemented. The Board approved the Legal Aid NSW Strategic Plan for 2022–2023 that includes the delivery of a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan. The Board will be involved in the development of that plan.

The integration of LawAccess NSW with Legal Aid  NSW has been very successful in improving outcomes for people who need legal help and in providing more efficient access to Legal Aid NSW.  I acknowledge and thank all staff involved in this initiative.

This year, at least 60 local government areas across the state suffered severe flooding. Once again, our Disaster Response Legal Service provided assistance to the communities impacted, by coordinating the legal assistance sector disaster response. I thank all involved in providing an outstanding service to these vulnerable communities in very difficult circumstances.

I look forward to the implementation of the final year of our strategic plan in 2022–2023 and the development of our future strategic plan.

It is an honour and a privilege to work with such committed colleagues as the Board, the Audit and Risk Committee and the staff of Legal Aid NSW.

Craig Smith
Chair, Legal Aid NSW