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Chairperson’s report

I am delighted to introduce Legal Aid Queensland's Annual Report for 2016-17.

I was honoured to become chairperson of the board of this iconic Queensland institution in May 2017. I have a strong connection with legal assistance. My first work experience in the Brisbane legal profession more than 40 years ago was as a law student volunteer with the then newly formed Aboriginal Legal Service. As a young barrister, I worked for more than 13 years as an assistant public defender. And as a judge for more than 26 years, both at trial and appellate level, I often admired Legal Aid Queensland's excellent work in providing access to justice for disadvantaged Queenslanders.

This report highlights the organisation's achievements and challenges over the past year in continuing to provide quality, cost effective legal services to so many financially disadvantaged Queenslanders. We helped those with mental health difficulties or whose first language is not English; children and young people; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; those seeking advice on employment, anti-discrimination, social security appeals or consumer protection; war veterans and their dependents; and those facing serious criminal charges.

This year, we provided more than 37,000 legal advices on criminal, family and civil law, including farm and rural debt issues. We prioritised legal advice to victims of domestic violence. We were a national leader in family law dispute resolution. We helped 2385 prisoners. We also assisted Refugee and Immigration Legal Service clients with family law and child protection issues. We were a key partner in the successful implementation of the Specialist Domestic and Family Violence Court at Southport. And our social workers and psychologists ensured we provided a holistic approach to our clients' multi-faceted problems.

The organisation's outreach has been extended over time through duty lawyer schemes in the Federal Circuit Court, Magistrates Courts and the new Domestic Violence Courts, and through the organisation's administrative management of the state and federal funding of Queensland's many, diverse and effective community legal centres.

The board was pleased to support a proposal to review and renew our Cultural Capablity Plan. I look forward to Legal Aid Queensland playing its role in improving the economic, social and health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait people. In this, the board will be assisted by its newest member, Indigenous barrister Joshua Creamer, who was appointed early in 2017-18.

One aspect of the justice system where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over represented is child protection. With welcome additional funding of $2.55 million from the Queensland Government to expand child protection legal services from 2017-18, the board approved new guidelines for grants of aid in these matters.

I look forward to Legal Aid Queensland expanding both its Farm and Rural Legal Service, and also its Domestic and Family Violence Duty Lawyer Services to the new specialist Domestic and Family Violence Courts in Beenleigh, Townsville, Mount Isa and Palm Island.

During the year, the board farewelled chairperson Brian Stewart and board member Peter Nolan. I thank them for their contributions. I particularly thank Mr Stewart for his three year leadership of the board during which he capably oversaw Legal Aid Queensland's strategic and financial stability through a period of considerable growth. The board was well served throughout the year by members Philip Askin, Sandra Deane and Allan Welsh.

This reporting year, Legal Aid Queensland experienced a noticeable increase in grants of aid in criminal matters, consistent with the significant rise in criminal cases across the justice system generally. Through careful management, the resulting strains on the organisation's budget have been absorbed this year, but if the trend continues, additional funding is likely to be needed.

I thank the members of Queensland's legal profession and community legal centres, the Bar Association of Queensland and the Queensland Law Society upon whom we relied heavily during the year. It is noteworthy that more than 50 percent of our total expenditure comprised payments to private lawyers for legal assistance. I gratefully acknowledge the ongoing support, both financially and more broadly, from the federal Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC and the state Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, the Hon Yvette D'Ath MP, and warmly thank them for it. And I thank the hard-working and capable members of the board, management team and the staff on whose shoulders Legal Aid Queensland stands. I look forward to continuing our work together in 2017-18 for the benefit of the people of Queensland and our justice system.

Margaret McMurdo Signature

The Hon Margaret McMurdo AC
Chairperson, Legal Aid Queensland Board

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