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START OF 2013-14 annual report
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The Australian Government and the states and territories entered into the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services (NPA) in July 2010. The NPA governs the manner in which Commonwealth legal aid services funding to the states and territories is to be used, as well as the broader goals and objectives of legal assistance services.
The NPA emphasises the early resolution of legal problems through preventative legal services (ie information, referral and community legal education) and early intervention services (ie advice, minor assistance and advocacy).
The service delivery categories used in the NPA have been adopted throughout this annual report. The categories are:
Statistics in our annual report have been provided under the definitions and counting rules determined by the Australian Government, states and territories as part of the implementation of the NPA. See Table 2 for an overview of our performance.
In addition to reporting on NPA service delivery categories, we have state government service standards to meet that are also listed in Table 3.
Table 2. Overview of Legal Aid Queensland services
The NPA provided national performance benchmarks and indicators to be met by 30 June 2014. In a collaborative project between the Australian Government, states and territories, the Allen Consulting Group independently reviewed the national legal assistance sector. The review evaluated the quality, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the four Australian Government funded legal assistance programs as a national system. It also considered the progress made by legal aid commissions towards achieving the NPA’s performance indicators. A copy of the Allen Consulting Group review can be found at www.ag.gov.au
The review included an assessment of Legal Aid Queensland’s performance against the national performance benchmarks and indicators. We satisfied the following performance benchmarks and indicators:
The Allen Consulting Group could not assess any of the legal aid commissions against the three performance indicators and benchmarks about developing and implementing an Information and Referral Strategy because “an accurate assessment was unable to be made, due to qualitative or incomplete information, or a lack of clear target stated in the benchmark”.
Table 3. State government service standards
The 2013–14 actual results for the average cost of state services provided include both direct and indirect costs associated with the delivery of services. This includes an overhead apportionment from the one-off revaluation decrement expense that was incurred in 2013–14 that was associated with the outcome from the land and building valuation of 44 Herschel Street, Brisbane, that has effectively distorted the average cost result. Legal Aid Queensland will continue to refine its process towards cost attribution through overhead allocation to ensure the total cost of service delivery is reflected as accurately as possible.
Moving forward into 2014–15, Legal Aid Queensland will again focus and report on the efficient delivery of core services, such as providing legal advice and crime duty lawyer sessions, against individual efficiency targets of 30 minutes for each service.
Community legal education (CLE) activities are an integral part of the services offered by Legal Aid Queensland.
Our CLE activities are coordinated through a strategy that targets priority client groups and legal problems and aims to:
Our CLE Strategy is delivered through:
The NPA’s focus on prevention, early intervention legal services and collaboration has been a key driver for the strategy and the coordination of our CLE work.
During the year, we:
The CLE Collaboration Fund was named a finalist in the 2013 Premier’s Awards for Excellence in Public Service Delivery in the “Building a stronger rural and regional Queensland” award category. Unfortunately we didn’t win our award category, but we were proud our staff were recognised for their hard work in delivering community improvements and public sector efficiency around the state.
Legal Aid Queensland provides comprehensive, statewide, free legal information and referral services to disadvantaged Queenslanders. Our free legal information and referral services can be accessed online via the Legal Aid Queensland website (www.legalaid.qld.gov.au), by phone through our call centre, and in person at one of our 14 offices throughout metropolitan, rural and regional Queensland.
The organisation first established a statewide call centre in 1997 to provide telephone information services to the general public. The Legal Aid Queensland website complements this service, containing comprehensive legal information on a range of legal issues, as well as a statewide network of referral agencies. Clients can also access information in person by visiting one of our offices, or one of our community access points.
Legal information and referral services provided to the public increased by more than 2% compared with 2012–13.
In 2013–14, we continued to redevelop our website. We are reviewing all content and redesigning the site to make it more accessible for users.
We continued to implement our Information and Referral Strategy, which aims to increase the number of information and referral services, improve links between Legal Aid Queensland and other services, and improve the accuracy and effectiveness of referral practices.
Financially disadvantaged Queenslanders can access our free legal advice and minor assistance services by telephone, videoconference, face-to-face at Legal Aid Queensland offices and at designated outreach services. The legal advice service is primarily provided by our Brisbane-based First Advice Contact Team (FACT), specialist teams and regional offices. FACT provides advice to clients at our Brisbane office and telephone advice to clients Australia wide and to overseas callers.
We provide a Prison Advice Service. Videoconferencing is used to provide legal advice services to people in Queensland’s prisons, which achieves significant travel time and cost savings. FACT and some regional advice lawyers also maintain a face-to-face advice service at designated local prisons.
We also provide minor assistance services for people who might need help with preparing letters and other documents following on from initial legal advice.
We provide free legal advice in:
We continued to provide a weekly advice service at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to assist clients considering appealing their social security matters from the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. The service provides advice to clients on their prospects of success and/or evidence and, if appropriate, helps them apply for legal aid.
In June 2014, we started a weekly advice service in the Social Security Appeals Tribunal following consultation with the tribunal and the Welfare Rights Centre. The clinic focuses on providing advice and assistance to clients about disability support pensions, debts, compensation preclusion cases, social security benefits cases where there is a dispute about whether a person is in a couple relationship, other complex cases, and matters involving vulnerable clients.
We worked with the Brisbane-based Refugee and Immigration Legal Service to provide a weekly legal advice clinic for clients who have consumer law (banking, housing, mobile phones), domestic violence and/or child protection issues. The lawyers in the clinic, if appropriate, help clients to apply for legal aid.
Figure 7. Early intervention services provided by Legal Aid Queensland 2013–14
We provided 55,793 legal advice and minor assistance services to people in 2013–14.
Legal Aid Queensland is a national leader in providing lawyer-assisted family law dispute resolution. We provide a statewide lawyer-assisted family dispute resolution program. We aim to resolve family law disputes before matters go to court, or before a final hearing is needed if court proceedings have started.
We have dispute resolution conference organisers in Brisbane and regional centres around the state to help families. Family law dispute resolution conferences are held at our Brisbane and regional offices. We also provide a support service to help people implement their conference agreement. An important part of our dispute resolution program is our property arbitration program.
In November 2013, we started a Family Dispute Early Resolution pilot program, which aims to expand the organisation’s family law conferencing services by 75 conferences each month. The pilot program focuses on making conferences available at the early stages of a dispute about substantial parenting issues for vulnerable clients, where there is a genuine need for orders to provide some certainty about ongoing parenting arrangements. Between November 2013 and June 2014, 374 conferences took place under the pilot program.
We provided 6219 dispute resolution services during the year.
Our Farm and Rural Legal Service provides free legal help to Queensland farmers and primary producers experiencing financial hardship related to their business — including severe debt problems or those in dispute with their lenders.
We provide legal advice and represent clients in mediations with their banks and finance providers. The service has been busy assisting drought affected farmers and primary producers during 2013–14.
Legal Aid Queensland is dedicated to providing quality representation to our clients, and quality assistance to our courts. Our Criminal Law Duty Lawyer Service operates in Queensland’s Magistrates and Childrens Courts and plays a crucial role in our juvenile and adult justice systems. The service offers free initial legal advice and representation to people charged with criminal and some traffic offences, who are on bail or in custody in Queensland. Duty lawyers can enter guilty pleas, make bail applications or request remands for clients.
Our criminal law duty lawyers ensured 77,738 children and adults were represented in court, a 13% increase compared with 2012–13.
Duty lawyer services are provided by our in-house lawyers and authorised private lawyers who deliver services under roster or tender arrangements.
We are committed to case conferencing matters with the prosecution to ensure our clients have their legal issues resolved as soon as possible. This can have significant sentencing benefits for clients and can also result in savings to the criminal justice system by avoiding unnecessary court time. It also means witnesses and victims do not have to go through the stress of attending court.
During the year, we began a project to update our criminal law duty lawyer training DVD — a key tool used to accredit duty lawyers across Queensland. We worked with the Brisbane Magistrates Court and Queensland Police Service to produce the resource, which will be completed in 2014–15.
Our Family Law Duty Lawyer Service provides assistance to self-represented litigants in the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court throughout Queensland for family law matters. We provided services in Brisbane, Townsville, Cairns, Mackay, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Maroochydore, Toowoomba, Southport, Hervey Bay and Ipswich.
Our family law duty lawyers helped 2130 unrepresented people get through their day in court.
As part of this duty lawyer service, we provide information, legal advice, referrals and representation. We also help people complete forms and documents, negotiate and settle consent orders, and seek adjournments. We help people complete applications for legal aid or access our review process if they have previously been unsuccessful with applications for aid.
Our in-house practice, together with more than 370 private law firms (preferred suppliers) and barristers, provide litigation services to legally-aided clients in serious crime, general crime, juvenile justice, family law, child protection, domestic violence and other civil law matters. We use grants of aid to purchase these services from private lawyers.
Almost 80 percent of our legal representation is provided by private solicitors, and barristers who are briefed by them, with the remainder provided by our in-house practice.
Funding private lawyers to do legal aid work makes up more than 48 percent of our total expenditure.
Our Grants division is responsible for processing applications for legal assistance and managing matters following approval. We assessed 35,014 new applications for legal aid in 2013–14 (see Figure 8 for more information). Grants decisions are made in the Brisbane office and across our regional offices.
We approved 27,375 initial applications for legal aid in 2013–14.
Figure 8. Applications for grants of aid received and approved by type 2013–14
Demand for our services is high so we use strict criteria when granting aid for legal representation. In determining whether to approve a grant of aid, grants officers assess requests in line with our guidelines, which are set by the Legal Aid Queensland Board, and apply the means and merit tests. This process looks at the financial means of the person applying and the case’s relative merit. If an application is refused, internal and external review processes are available to applicants.
We fund legal representation in the Magistrates Court for pleas of guilty, summary trials, commitals and other matters.
Our lawyers have been proactively involved in the case conferencing process for summary and committal matters over the past year.
We made significant contributions to criminal justice system projects during the year to help increase efficiencies in the Magistrates Court jurisdiction. As an active participant in the Integrated Criminal Justice Videoconferencing Working Group, we sought to increase videoconferencing use to create efficiencies in the justice system.
We also began to participate in an electronic adjournments pilot in the Brisbane Magistrates Court. The pilot allows the defence and prosecution to email requests to the court for adjournments. This process means all parties avoid having to attend court for a mention, saving time and expense.
In 2013–14, our expenditure to private lawyers for representing clients was $54.7M.
We fund lawyers who specialise in the defence of complex and general criminal law cases, in Commonwealth and state jurisdictions. Representation is often provided in matters such as murder, major fraud and complicated drug prosecutions. The defence of these matters is challenging and demanding, requiring extensive research, investigation and preparation.
Legal Aid Queensland represents people on appeal in the District Court appellate jurisdiction, Queensland Court of Appeal and the High Court of Australia.
Our Mental Health Unit provides advice and representation for people charged with criminal offences who have been referred to the Mental Health Court. The team is also committed to helping Queenslanders affected by mental illness or significant impairment and strive to provide them with a voice in the justice system. The team works closely with our in-house counsel to conduct matters, representing the vast majority of non-privately represented clients appearing in the Mental Health Court.
We continued to provide legal assistance in Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act 2003 matters. Under the Act, the Attorney-General can apply to the Supreme Court for an order to detain a convicted sex offender in prison after their court ordered sentence has been completed or seek that such offenders be released on a supervision order.
We act for people responding to dangerous prisoner applications brought by the Attorney-General, at periodic reviews of continuing detention orders, and in contravention proceedings for breaches of supervision orders.
Our criminal lawyers represent young people primarily in casework matters and duty lawyer services throughout Queensland. We also provide legal advice services at regular sessions to young people in detention.
Our Youth Legal Aid team provides specialist legal assistance to children and young people in the juvenile justice system, particularly in south east Queensland. The team is a significant stakeholder in the youth justice sector and advocates strongly on behalf of vulnerable children.
We represent parties in domestic violence matters through grants of aid to private law firms and through our in-house legal practice.
During the year, our Domestic Violence Prevention Service provided information sessions to women dealing with domestic violence matters at the Brisbane Magistrates Court. We worked with the Beenleigh Court Support Program to provide advice and representation to people in the Logan area who were applying for domestic violence protection orders in the Beenleigh Magistrates Court. During the year, we also worked with the Ipswich Women’s Centre Against Domestic Violence to provide advice to people in the Richlands area with domestic violence and family law matters in the Richlands Magistrates Court.
Our social workers and psychologist play an integral role in delivering our legal services to vulnerable clients. They support people through legal processes, chair family dispute resolution conferences, complete social assessment and family reports, and provide counselling services. We provide social work services from our Brisbane and Townsville offices.
During the year, our social workers and psychologist completed forensic assessment reports and psychological reports for independent children’s lawyers and separate representatives involved in family law and child protection matters, and provided testimony before the courts.
Our social workers and psychologist assisted our lawyers by providing clients with information and referrals to appropriate external organisations for help with non-legal matters such as mental health problems, substance dependencies and accommodation difficulties.
We provide information, referral, legal advice and representation services to clients with child support needs. We can explain how the child support formula works, how the Family Tax Benefit is affected and how to prove paternity.
Assisting children, their families and the courts to assess the best interests of children involved in legal proceedings is a key focus of the work conducted by our family and child protection lawyers. We continued to provide legal services for children and young people involved in family law and child protection matters in 2013–14.
Independent children’s lawyers and separate representatives provide best interests representation for children in family law matters and child protection cases, where judicial officers order a child’s interests be separately represented.
Independent children’s lawyers and separate representatives play a unique and difficult role within the family law and child protection systems. They gather and assess independent evidence and provide measured guidance and recommendations to the courts about the best interests of children and young people. The cases they work on are complex and demanding.
Courts exercising family law and child protection jurisdiction make a significant number of independent children’s lawyer and separate representative appointments. Many of these matters are dealt with by specialist in-house lawyers. The in-house independent children’s lawyers and separate representatives have significant experience and knowledge about parenting and child protection cases.
In-house lawyers perform considerable work in the Family Court of Australia’s Magellan list — a case management list devoted to cases where there are allegations of serious physical abuse or sexual abuse of children. Practitioners provide representation services both for parties and as independent children’s lawyers in the Brisbane, Townsville and Cairns Family Court registries.
Independent children’s lawyer and separate representative panel meetings are facilitated to help ensure knowledge is shared and issues are discussed between the private practitioners on the panel and in-house specialist lawyers.
This ensures a consistent, quality approach to the representation of children and young people.
We are the largest legal service provider in child protection matters in Queensland, providing information and advice, representation of parents, direct representation of young people, separate representation of children and young people, and limited representation in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
In 2014, we established a pilot project to provide legal services to young pregnant women or women with vulnerable children who have been identified to be at significant risk of harm. We are working with Micah Projects, a non-government organisation that supports vulnerable families, which has established referral pathways with health, housing, Indigenous, drug and alcohol, and domestic violence support services. The pilot has an early intervention approach that benefits both at risk mothers and children during the crucial pre- and post-natal period. Operating within a family support model, the project will provide this vulnerable client group with access to legal advice, minor assistance and representation early in the child protection process.
We provide specialist legal advice, assistance and representation in matters involving anti-discrimination, sexual harassment and vilification.
The Civil Law Legal Aid Scheme provides a service to members of the community who, without the scheme’s assistance, would not have the financial means to pursue a civil law claim.
Funded by the Public Trustee of Queensland and administered by Legal Aid Queensland, the scheme provides funds for outlays required to prepare civil law claims for settlement negotiations and/or court proceedings.
The scheme will consider providing funding for outlays where:
Applications are subject to Legal Aid Queensland’s means test and a merit assessment and assistance will only be approved if we consider the claim has reasonable prospects of success.
Our Consumer Protection Unit provides specialist advice and representation in consumer law matters. The unit provides advice to clients as well as lawyers and financial counsellors throughout Queensland.
During the year, the unit assisted people with:
In addition to our social security advice services, we also provide legal representation for social security appeals in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
We receive federal funding under the War Veterans’ Legal Aid Scheme to provide assistance to veterans and their dependants to appeal Veterans Review Board decisions about:
We expanded the reach of our civil justice services across the state, by employing a network of civil lawyers that specialise in employment and consumer law. The lawyers were based in our Toowoomba, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Townsville and Brisbane offices and provided advice clinics in person and over the phone with priority given to clients who were most vulnerable and at risk of financial or social exclusion. They represented clients in the Fair Work Commission, relevant courts and ombudsman schemes.
The network was funded from additional federal government funding of $3 million a year for two years. However, the additional funding earmarked for 2014–15 was not extended. As a result, we had to review our capacity to fund this new initiative. Unfortunately, we have had to make the difficult decision not to proceed with the services that would have been funded by the additional federal funds.
In 2013–14, our in-house team of barristers, led by Public Defender John Allen, again showed their commitment to providing quality specialist legal advocacy services efficiently and effectively.
In addition to the considerable work performed in the criminal jurisdiction of the Supreme, District and Magistrates Courts, we also appeared in all Mental Health Court sittings and in the Supreme Court’s civil jurisdiction for respondents in applications brought under the dangerous prisoners legislation. The Public Defender appeared in the Queensland Court of Appeal in significant cases about the constitutional validity of legislation and the limits of the inherent jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Counsel also provided advice and representation in family and civil law matters.
Our Townsville and Brisbane-based barristers also appeared in regional courts, including those in remote areas such as Mount Isa, the Gulf of Carpentaria, Thursday Island and Cape York Peninsula. Senior barristers provided opinions about the prospects of matters succeeding on appeal so decisions could be made about granting aid. They also conducted appeals against sentences and/or convictions in the Queensland Court of Appeal, including matters in which the Attorney-General had appealed against the sentence, and in the High Court of Australia.
The experience gained by our barristers due to the volume, complexity and diversity of the work ensures legally-aided clients have access to high quality representation and advice.
We continued to use our unique and comprehensive Quality Legal Services Framework for Legal Aid Queensland employed lawyers. The document lists the measures we have in place to ensure we maintain a high standard of service delivery to our clients. This includes:
We view our commitment to legal service quality as a process of continuous improvement. The framework requires we review its operation and effectiveness annually to ensure we continue to meet our professional service obligations to our clients.
We also aim to provide an accessible, high-quality legal service to our clients, and provide value for money to our funding bodies. One way we do this is by auditing preferred suppliers’ files to ensure they meet our practice and case management standards.
Our audit program also includes auditing in-house grants files for compliance with our policies, guidelines and file management standards.
In 2013–14, we monitored 114 law firms to ensure they met their preferred supplier and independent children’s lawyer agreements. We also audited their compliance with our practice and case management standards.
During the year, we continued our commitment to clients from culturally diverse backgrounds. We promoted our services within these communities to incease people’s awareness of Legal Aid Queensland and improve their access to justice by:
We are committed to providing services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
We treat women, especially women experiencing domestic violence, as a priority client group. We support the Queensland Government strategy to reduce domestic and family violence by delivering legal information, advice and representation to disadvantaged Queenslanders experiencing domestic and family violence. We support and acknowledge Queensland’s domestic violence laws’ objective — to maximise or increase the safety, protection and wellbeing of people who fear or experience domestic violence, including their children.
Our specialist Violence Prevention and Women’s Advocacy team deals with clients experiencing domestic violence. This team comprises specialist lawyers and social workers who provide services to women, and practical advice about service delivery in domestic violence cases. Their mission is to increase women’s access to our services and improve the responsiveness of Legal Aid Queensland to meet women’s legal needs. They work to develop and maintain effective working relationships with service providers and identify, review and respond to issues impacting on women’s access to justice.
The unit acts for women with complex legal issues in the areas of family law, child protection, discrimination, domestic violence and crime. They also provide services to women from culturally diverse backgrounds and women with intellectual disabilities. We have a network of family lawyers in our 13 regional offices who deliver legal services to local communities in response to issues arising from family relationships, including family and domestic violence and child protection.
Our Violence Against Women Strategy is an integrated, collaborative and consistent response to clients who have been affected by domestic violence. Under the strategy, we have developed and implemented practical tools for our practitioners including:
We have legal information resources to assist clients affected by family and domestic violence, which can be found on our website at www.legalaid.qld.gov.au.
During 2013–14, we rolled out our Legal Advice Referral Pathways Program to Bundaberg and Mackay. The program helps vulnerable clients to receive priority legal advice, and now operates in seven locations around the state — Brisbane, Bundaberg, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Mackay, Toowoomba and Townsville. The program has had 1080 referrals since its inception in 2008.
We also provided information sessions to women dealing with domestic violence matters at the Brisbane Magistrates Court. We worked with the Beenleigh Court Support Program to provide advice and representation to people in the Logan area who were applying for domestic violence protection orders in the Beenleigh Magistrates Court. During the year, we also worked with the Ipswich Women’s Centre Against Domestic Violence to provide advice to people in the Richlands area with domestic violence and family law matters in the Richlands Magistrates Court.
Legal Aid Queensland supports legal services to rural, regional and remote areas of Queensland. We have 13 regional offices providing services to regional Queensland, and a statewide network of regional preferred supplier private law firms.
We provide direct legal services such as grants of aid, legal advices and duty lawyer services to people in rural, regional and remote Queensland (see Figures 9 and 10 for more information).
Figure 9. Legal advices provided by location 2013–14
Figure 10. Applications for grants of aid received by location 2013–14
Other Legal Aid Queensland services available to regional people include:
We recognise many people with disabilities experience legal problems and require services that are responsive to their individual needs and circumstances. We continue to work to make our services more accessible to people with disabilities.
Last year we continued a project to redevelop the Legal Aid Queensland website www.legalaid.qld.gov.au. One of the project’s major objectives is to make the website more accessible to users, including people with disabilities, as required by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines endorsed by the Australian Government.
When people with a disability make contact with our call centre or in person at one of our offices, we have processes in place for identifying their vulnerabilities and giving them priority and supported access to our services.
For the hearing and speech impaired we have a Telephone Typewriter Service (TTY) that operates out of our Brisbane office. This service allows people with a hearing or speech impairment to make telephone calls. With a TTY, the conversation is typed rather than spoken allowing direct communication between the hearing or speech impaired person and the person on the other end of the call. Where practicable, we may use TTY to provide legal advice or information services by phone to hearing or speech impaired people. Hearing impaired clients can also access our services using the Deaf Society National Relay Service or arrangements can be made for onsite sign interpreters to attend one of our offices. The National Relay Service is a phone solution for people who are deaf or who have a hearing or speech impairment. Clients who contact us by email, letter or through third parties are provided with the national contact details for the service and are asked to place a call through them. The service then conference calls with us and the client, and the costs are met by Legal Aid Queensland. We also use videoconferencing to reach people in locations where onsite sign interpreting services are not available when we require the services. This involves the sign interpreter at one of our offices signing to the hearing impaired client at another office via videoconference.
Our Criminal Law Duty Lawyer Handbook includes a section for duty lawyers about representing clients with mental health issues, an intellectual disability or cognitive impairment. The handbook is available on our website in PDF, EPUB and mobi formats.
Table 4. Access by key disadvantaged groups 2013–14
The Queensland Legal Assistance Forum (QLAF) was established to help member organisations address legal assistance issues by facilitating cooperative working relationships with other legal service providers in rural and regional areas. The QLAF continued to meet quarterly throughout 2013–14.
In 2013, the QLAF redefined its objectives to take on a more substantive and strategic role and allow it to respond to the challenge of increased government expectations, while meeting stakeholder expectations. As part of this process, a representative from QCOSS was formally invited to join the QLAF and a best practice working group was established.
There are 12 RLAFs around the state. During 2013–14, we continued to coordinate the work of those forums.
The RLAFs aim to encourage collaborative and cooperative working relationships between legal aid service providers in each region. By working together, service providers have been able to identify emerging legal needs in their communities, help determine which legal service is best placed to meet legal needs, and ultimately reduce service delivery gaps.
Two of the RLAF networks successfully applied for funding from the CLE Collaboration Fund to continue to provide CLE in partnership with other local legal service agencies. The Bundaberg RLAF delivered CLE sessions in the Wide Bay Burnett region on parenting matters, domestic and family violence. The South West Queensland forum continued with its program of delivering key legal information to young people on social media law with sessions presented at schools in Charleville, Mitchell, Cunnamulla, Goondiwindi and Roma.
The RLAFs’ work aligns with the NPA, with its focus on increased collaboration and cooperation between legal assistance providers. It also allows legal assistance services to target people who experience, or are at risk of experiencing, social exclusion.
The CLE Legal Assistance Forum is a specialist forum of the QLAF.
The CLE Legal Assistance Forum was established in 2011 to assist Legal Aid Queensland and the community sector to work collaboratively on CLE projects and initiatives, disseminate CLE information and resources, and foster good practice CLE delivery.
This network includes representatives from the community legal sector and government legal service providers delivering community legal education services.
The CLE Legal Assistance Forum’s activities are reported to QLAF each quarter.
Legal Aid Queensland was instrumental in developing and delivering coordinated disaster legal response services for Queenslanders affected by the 2010–11 cyclone and floods and 2013 floods.
During the year, we documented and consolidated the response efforts in a report Flood and cyclone legal help — A report on Legal Aid Queensland’s role 2010–13. The report gives valuable insight into the process behind the response efforts and the challenges faced in establishing and coordinating an effective multi-organisational response. It also serves as a blueprint for the organisation in dealing with any disasters should they arise in the future.
We also prepared a Disaster Legal Response Plan. The plan aims to provide legal assistance bodies in Queensland with a contingency plan to follow in the event of a disaster, including immediate response measures through to long term evaluation and capacity building.
We act as state program manager for CLCs, monitoring their financial reporting and strategic planning and ensuring service delivery targets are met. During 2013–14, we administered funding on behalf of the state and federal governments to 41 CLCs throughout Queensland (see Table 5 for more information).
This year, Queensland centres received $14,999,162 in funding. This included an extra $1,080,000 provided by the federal Attorney-General’s Department. The state government provided one-off funding of $281,263 from the Legal Practitioner Interest on Trust Accounts Fund (LPITAF) to three centres.
This year we continued to participate in government policy and legislation development processes drawing on our extensive legal practice expertise to inform our policy contributions.
We provided submissions on the:
We also worked with the Department of Justice and Attorney-General and the Department of Communities and other agencies in implementing the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry’s recommendations.
Our public submissions on law reform and legal policy issues can be read at www.legalaid.qld.gov.au.
Table 5. Funding for CLCs from federal and state governments (including LPITAF) 2013–14
We supported government policy development and the efficent management of the justice system by collaborating with our collegues in government and the courts.
This involved participating in the:
We have been working on building a strong ‘business partnership’ relationship with preferred supplier firms, which helps Legal Aid Queensland and preferred supplier firms understand each other’s expectations and challenges, and has contributed to developing good working relationships and communication channels.
To extend stakeholder consultation, in June 2014 we established an industry reference group with nominated representatives from the Queensland Law Society and Bar Association of Queensland. The reference group, which is chaired by Legal Aid Queensland’s chief executive officer, provides a formal forum for regular consultation with the profession and for discussing and managing stakeholder concerns. The reference group will meet each quarter.
We released the Improving Criminal Law Grants of Aid consultation paper in June 2013 asking stakeholders for feedback about improving the structure of criminal law grants of aid, while streamlining processes and maintaining accountability for public funds. The feedback led to changes to expensive case fee packages and revised grants processes for summary matters being implemented from 16 December 2013, together with increased preparation fees for standard trial matters in the Magistrates and District Courts. We also plan to increase fees for court time from 1 July 2014.
We increased family law fees for solicitors, counsel and report writers by five percent from 1 July 2013. In June 2014, we released a consultation paper setting out proposals to better align existing family law grants of aid with court processes.
Fees were also increased for other Commonwealth matters on 1 July 2013 and child protection fees were increased in January and February 2014.
During the year, we worked with the Bar Association of Queensland to pilot a junior barrister briefing program. As part of the initiative, junior barristers were selected as participants and briefed by our criminal lawyers to undertake summary pleas, summary trials and s 222 District Court appeal appearances. We also worked with the Bar Association of Queensland to provide training and mentoring opportunities to the participants. The scheme has provided junior barristers with the opportunity to appear for legally-aided clients and has been positively received. We plan to run the program again in 2014–15.
In February 2014, our staff helped facilitate a first-of-its-kind in Queensland training day for independent children’s lawyers and other family law practitioners. The full day conference was organised by the Family Law Practitioners Association, providing practical and interactive sessions for practitioners. The conference was attended by about 140 people including solicitors, barristers and social scientists, with speakers and panellists from the Family Court of Australia, Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Legal Aid Queensland, New South Wales Legal Aid, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal and private practice. We are committed to improving the skills of our in-house and external panel of independent children’s lawyers through ongoing training.
During the year, we continued to ensure staff and preferred suppliers had access to the legal knowledge they needed to do their jobs effectively. We:
We also launched a new in-house database of family law property decisions designed to simplify the process of identifying relevant case law to assist legally-aided clients. Key in-house legal information resources are freely available to preferred supplier law firms who do legal aid work, CLCs and the ATSILS. These resources help our partners to better serve our clients and are a powerful incentive for private practitioners and firms to become or remain preferred suppliers.
We continued to provide our in-house CPD program during 2013–14. Most sessions are open to all staff, as well as law firms that provide legal aid services, CLCs and the ATSILS, with audio conference facilities available to regional offices. Our program aims to ensure our lawyers are up to date with the latest legislative changes and have the opportunity to develop their professional skills and legal knowledge. The program allows legal staff to earn CPD points, which are required to renew practicing certificates each year.
We also provided staff with face-to-face and online training opportunities to familiarise them with our policies and procedures and to develop their skills and knowledge. Training included:
We want our staff to be able to find an appropriate work-life balance. During the year, we continued to offer and promote flexible working options, including working part time, job sharing, telecommuting and purchasing supplementary leave. We also continued to provide remote computer access to many staff.
We have implemented strategies to help our staff effectively manage the possible impact of their work on their mental health and emotional wellbeing. We are particularly aware our lawyers and support staff are routinely involved in work that is confronting and stressful, which puts them at risk of suffering vicarious trauma. We responded to these risks by arranging workshops for Brisbane and regional office staff on managing the psychological impacts of practicing law. We also provided staff with information about support networks and self-help strategies, and access to confidential counselling services. (See Figure 11 for staff absenteeism and turnover rates.)
Figure 11. Staff absenteeism and turnover
At 30 June 2014, Legal Aid Queensland had 438 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees working in 14 offices throughout the state (see Figures 12 and 13 for more information).
Figure 12. Actual staff by employment type (by FTE) 2013–14
Figure 13. Staff age profile 2013–14
We are committed to equal employment opportunity (EEO) principles and have successfully implemented these principles across the organisation. Our current EEO statistics highlight our commitment to equitable recruitment, selection and promotion policies (see Figure 14 for more information).
Figure 14. Equal employment opportunity target group membership 2013-14
Legal Aid Queensland is covered by a whole-of-government Code of Conduct. The single Code of Conduct reflects ethical values contained in the Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 and covers the following principles:
The code guides us in managing issues like:
Our Workplace Behaviours Policy further provides for standards relating to appropriate workplace behaviour and an employee’s Personal Work and Development Plans outline obligations relating to the Code of Conduct. We manage breaches of the Code of Conduct in line with the Public Service Commission’s Discipline Guide.
We provide staff with Code of Conduct and workplace behaviours training when they start work and then annually.
During the year, we continued to make improvements to our business processes and information systems for procuring, managing and delivering grants of legal aid. Our system improvements mean practitioners can now:
These improvements have reduced inquiries to preferred suppliers, strengthened the integrity of our information, and improved the effectiveness of our grants management systems.
During the year, we finished developing and rolling out our new client feedback system. This system streamlines the process involved in managing feedback and complaints. It holds file-related information in one central location, provides automatic prompts for key dates and tasks, and simplifies the process of generating and storing all client correspondence.
In March 2013, we began a project to upgrade all of our desktop computers to Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010. This upgrade is in line with most state government departments and agencies and is expected to be completed by October 2014.
Under the Public Records Act 2002, we are required to make and keep full and accurate records of our activities, and to respect and follow the recordkeeping policies, standards and guidelines issued by the State Archivist. We use the TRIM electronic document and records management system and have integrated TRIM with a core business system to facilitate a more streamlined approach to capturing some business records. About 77 percent of our corporate records and 15 percent of our core business records are digital.
In 2013–14, we continued recordkeeping reforms to improve and support good corporate governance by:
We communicated recordkeeping roles and responsibilities to all staff by delivering recordkeeping system training to support the transition to electronic records.
We continued the transition from paper to digital records by:
We also ensured the reliability and security of our recordkeeping systems by trialling a range of audit mechanisms to ensure compliance and quality of data and records.
We continued to implement appropriate disposal activities by:
During 2013–14, we continued to improve our resource efficiency to help reduce our environmental impact (see Figures 15 and 16 for more information).
Figure 15. Brisbane office water consumption
Figure 16. Brisbane office energy consumption
We continued to achieve these significant savings by:
We also worked to reduce our environmental footprint in other ways including:
We continued to be involved with other waste management practices, including recycling paper, cardboard, cans, glass and printer toner cartridges.
During 2013–14, we completed the initial stages of work associated with the refurbishment of two floors of our primary office building at 44 Herschel Street, Brisbane. These works are scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2014–15.
We completed the fit-out of our new premises at Ipswich and the office officially opened on 13 May 2014. These new premises provide improved client interaction facilities, including extra interview rooms, and allow for the office to be expanded in the future.
We also upgraded our office accommodation at Caboolture, which included some refurbishment works and a new conference facility.
We began work on the design plans for our Bundaberg office, which we plan to upgrade and expand in 2014–15. This will involve our Bundaberg office relocating to another level of their existing building, which will provide extra floor space to support day-to-day operations and facilities for people with a physical disability.
In June 2013, we participated in the Working for Queensland Employee Opinion Survey. Nearly 51 percent of employees (237 employees) responded to the survey. The survey results indicated those employees who participated in the survey felt engaged while at work, understood their roles and collaborated well with stakeholders. The feedback we received was invaluable in identifying areas for improvement. We engaged external consultants to help us with the action planning process and develop internal priorities for the organisation. We began implementing some of the actions in 2014.
In May 2014, we again participated in the Working for Queensland Employee Opinion Survey. This year’s survey response rate increased to 61.3 percent, with 303 employees responding. Detailed survey responses will be available later in 2014.